Monsieur Lazhar is, in two words, a gem.
In many more words, it is a thought provoking, touching, truly human film with a witty, sensitive dialogue and endearing characters. Adapted from the play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere, the central plot revolves around an immigrant to Canada (specifically, Montréal, Québec), whose name is Bachir Lazhar.
Bachir finds work as a schoolteacher in a school where a popular teacher has recently committed suicide (and whose class he then takes on as his own). As the film goes on, we are taken through a beautifully written and excellently shot emotional journey with both the children and the staff of the school, as well as with Bachir himself, who has his own deep and emotional story to tell. The two main plot threads are held well in counterpoint, and one feeds from the other.
The acting is superb throughout, and all of the characters are well portrayed, insofar as I am able to tell in my ignorance of the wonderful sounding language that is French. One loses nothing from viewing it via subtitles however, and indeed the film would suffer greatly if it were not demonstrated that the setting was French-speaking Canada, since much of the charming dialogue between Monsieur Lazhar and his class hinges on this point. The child actors, in particular, mark themselves out with a performance that feels natural and genuine.
With excellent cinematography, and a refined script that leaves nothing out without including anything unnecessary, this film is a must, even for those that do not normally engage with foreign cinema.
Monsieur Lazhar (2011), directed by Philippe Falardeau, is released on DVD in the UK by Soda Pictures, Certificate 12.