Listen Up, Class
It was just in today's newspaper where it was reported that teachers here would be given a code of conduct which they have to adhere to. I can only guess what these guidelines are and perhaps how strait-jacketed they will be in reducing the teacher to being a pure administrator and educator, without vested personal emotions to his or her class, something that only a robot or cyborg can deliver, lessons without emotion. And it's uncanny that this was also one of the themes being featured in this Canadian-French movie, a powerful tale revolving around a makeshift teacher and his students, moving from a period of confusion, blame and tragedy, toward reconciliation and healing for both parties.
I'm pretty sure all of us have a favourite teacher, or teachers, throughout our education in schools and institutions, and I bet it is likely that they all happen to be very personable and approachable, not to mention dedicated and committed to seeing that their students do well. They have their own style, and despite some little oddities, are never lacking in effort and desire to teach, and impart knowledge. They may not adhere to the school's culture, and at times may even do things to the contrary of established rules, but save for the few bad hats with ulterior motives, there's no short of innovation in their lessons, or in this instance, somewhat trying to instill some old school techniques into a class that is comfortable with new methods of learning.
Beginning in very grim terms, this Canadian nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards has an elementary school student in Montreal chance upon his teacher's body, being hung from a pipe in their classroom in an apparent suicide. Why she had to do this, which is quite deliberate and knowing jolly well who would find her, is left to be debated, as the screenplay moves to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy, where a psychologist got hired for regular counselling sessions with that teacher's class, and any other school person who needed someone to talk to. For the principal, priority remains in getting a replacement teacher, and he comes in the form of the titular Lazhar (Mohamed Fellaq), who walked in to offer his services, having an impressive educator's record.
But there's more to Monsieur Lazhar as we would soon find out, as one of the rare male figures in a school led predominantly by female educators. Tragedy seems to connect teacher and class together, and through their semester together, learn how to cope with their demons in their own ways. The relationship building between teacher and student is just about what's best about this moving drama, in addition to having to tackle some politics of the day, especially when Lazhar administers some vigilante styled discipline of his own, before being lectured to stick to the code of conduct and guidelines. Which mirrors how power has shifted these days from teachers, once feared in the classroom, to the students and protective parents who will have no qualms at taking on the teacher, principal and anyone else in the educational hierarchy.
Mohamed Fellaq puts in a superb performance as the titular character, and we share in his earnest efforts at doing his best despite not being what he truly is., and grieve with him during his most personal of times during the movie. writer-director Philippe Falardeau (who also did It's Not Me, I Swear!) adopts a somewhat documentary feel when dealing with scenes involving the classroom, sort of reminiscent of the Cannes Film Festival 2008 Palme d'Or winner The Class, with a myriad of student characters performed by very charismatic young actors and actresses boasting naturalness in their delivery, that it makes it seem like a real class rather than a rehearsed one. It is this interaction, as well as painful revelation, that makes Monsieur Lazhar a little heart-wrenching to sit through.