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Film / Monsieur Lazhar

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Monsieur Lazhar is a 2012 French language Canadian film (specifically from Quebec) directed by Phillipe Farardeau.

The setting is a primary school in Montreal. One day a boy of maybe 12, Simon, goes back to class from recess carrying the milk cartons, only to find that his teacher, Martine, has hanged herself in the classroom. His best friend, a girl named Alice (Sophie Nélisse), manages to also catch a glimpse of the dead teacher before the whole student body is hustled out of the building.

The panicked principal, Mrs. Vaillancourt, needs a new teacher, pronto. Enter Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Saïd Fellag), an immigrant from Algeria looking for a job. Lazhar says that he taught in Algeria for 19 years, he speaks fluent French because he's from Algeria, and he's willing to start right away. A desperate Mrs. Vaillancourt hires him immediately.

Monsieur Lazhar has some initial awkwardness with his students; they criticize his Algerian dialect of French and they think that Balzac is too hard for an assignment. But he soon wins them over with his charm and empathy. However, he has a secret that he hasn't told his employer.


  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Mrs. Vallaincourt, the principal. She rigidly enforces school rules like "don't touch the students" even while recognizing how absurd they are. She is desperate enough for a teacher to hire M. Lazhar without adequately checking his references. She is utterly petrified at the very idea of confronting Martine's suicide and clearly wants to sweep it under the rug, no matter how traumatized the students are.
  • Bittersweet Ending: M. Lazhar has to quit his job after his secret is revealed. Alice gives him a tearful hug goodbye in the last scene of the film. But Alice and Simon have made friends again, and M. Lazhar has been granted asylum in Canada.
  • Call-Back: One scene has the class talking about what a chrysalis is. The ending scene has M. Lazhar read his fable, in which he talks about a fire killing a chrysalis on a tree before it could become a butterfly, a story that is symbolic of his loss of his family as well as his students dealing with the death of their teacher.
  • Canadian Equals Hockey Fan: Naturally kids are wielding sticks in the school courtyard during recess. Later, M. Lazhar stops on his way home to watch some kids play hockey.
  • Cool Teacher: M. Lazhar, who isn't afraid to buck some of the school's petty, arbitrary rules—he gives one kid a well-deserved smack up the back of the head for firing a spitball at another student—but also respects the children and encourages them to talk about their feelings. He is willing to listen to them and gives them a chance to tell how they feel about the death of their teacher, when the principal and all the other teachers plainly want to pretend that nothing ever happened.
  • Corporal Punishment: Discussed Trope. M. Lazhar smacks a kid upside the head for misbehaving in class. It is a minor incident but the teacher feels obligated to tell him that teachers aren't allowed to touch kids at all, neither in Corporal Punishment or with, say, a hug.
  • Creator Cameo: Évelyne de la Chenelière, who wrote the play that this film was adapted from, appears briefly near the end as Alice's mom.
  • Driven to Suicide: Martine, the schoolteacher hangs herself in the classroom. No one can understand either why she killed herself or, worse, why she did it in the school where the children will see.
  • Dramatic Drop: Simon drops his crate of milk cartons when he looks through the window in the door and sees his teacher hanging from a ceiling pipe.
  • Gratuitous English: One scene shows the kids in English class. When his students tell Monsieur Lazhar that he should try speaking in English, he laughs and says that tomorrow's lesson will be in Arabic.
  • An Immigrant's Tale: Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant who moved to Canada to set up a place to live for his family, but who was left in Quebec alone after his wife and children were murdered by right-wing terrorists. He is desperate to stay but has an iffy case for political asylum.
  • Internal Reveal: A third of the way through a scene at M. Lazhar's immigration hearing reveals that he lied to the principal and got his job at the school under false pretenses. To the court, which apparently does not know about his teaching job, he states that he was a restaurant manager in Algeria and it was his late wife who was the teacher.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: One day when Simon was upset over something, his teacher Martine gave him a hug. He didn't like it and chose not just to report his teacher for violating the no-contact rule, but also to lie and say she kissed him as well. Later, Simon is crushed under the weight of guilt, wondering if he is to blame for Martine's suicide.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The suicide of a schoolteacher sets the story in motion, as an enthusiastic immigrant from Algeria takes her job, while the students struggle to deal with their teacher's death.
  • Posthumous Character: Martine, who is found dead in the first scene of the movie. Students talk about her. Simon has a picture of her which he took with the camera that she lent him. Simon got her in trouble. She read the class fables. The teachers wonder about what to do with a box of her office stuff, which, for unexplained reasons, her husband never picked up.
  • Ship Tease: It seems that Claire, the drama teacher, likes M. Lazhar. She invites him over for dinner; supposedly another guest was supposed to be there but it's hinted that she invited only him on purpose. Claire serves him wine and acts friendly and even lets her hair down, but Bachir steers their conversation to work matters before he leaves. He clearly is not ready to move on after the deaths of his wife and family.