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Friday, July 19, 2013

MONSIEUR LAZHAR (2011)

Warmly-received, nicely-observed French-Canadian pic about a class of grammar school kids adjusting to their new teacher, a slightly formal, older man with an Algerian background. The story hook is that the kids are recovering (in stages) from the trauma of losing their original teacher to suicide, and the equally traumatic, secretly held personal history of their new teacher who only recently lost his family back in Algeria due to some unexplained political troubles. With occasional missteps & modest breakthroughs, the wary students and the reticent teacher manage to confront psychological demons in spite of warnings to stick strictly to the approved curriculum. The script works hard to keep from going all warm & fuzzy on us, but about halfway in you start to feel the film force-feeding ‘correct’ responses, as if we were fourth graders needing a nudge in the right direction. You long to raise your hand and start asking the filmmakers some of the tough questions the film paints over with pat psychological responses.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: For some refreshing childhood anarchy, go with Jean Vigo’s ZERO FOR CONDUCT/’33 or Fran├žois Truffaut’s warm, but sharply etched SMALL CHANGE/’76.

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