94 minutes, Canada, 2011, Subtitled, Colour, D-Cinema

The film which swept Canada’s end-of-year Genie Awards is an affecting chronicle of loss and acceptance. Children and staff at a Montreal primary school are numbed by the suicide of a much-loved teacher, and her unlikely replacement is a kindly Algerian exile with teaching experience in his homeland.

Bachir Lazhar (played by Mohamed Fellag, Algerian himself) has some old-fashioned ideas which bristle against modern-day political correctness, but while he gradually gains the trust of pupils still traumatised by recent events, his own painful history remains under wraps. Director Philippe Falardeau could easily have poured on the syrup, but he’s smart enough to know that contrived resolutions are no answer.

Instead, he allows the emotional truthfulness of his leading man and terrific junior performers to touch our hearts, suggesting that the distances between us can only be bridged when we start letting go of the rules.

A lovely film, Monsieur Lazhar was well worth its recent Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language category. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)

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