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Monsieur Lazhar **** ½

This Canadian film is another one that was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category (A Separation won the award and A Footnote was also a contender for the prize).

It’s the story of a school in Montreal that has been shaken/disturbed by the death of one of its well-liked teachers. An Algerian immigrant gets the job to take over the class that has lost their teacher. The ‘substitute’ has losses of his own that are equally painful, and the film tells the story of how the kids and the teacher affect each other.

This film reminded me of a favorite of mine, To Be and To Have, a documentary about a one-room school in rural France, where a dedicated teacher has a powerful impact on the kids.

Only in Monsieur Lazhar, the story goes well beyond the simple impact of a teacher on the students. Issues of loss, death, guilt, honesty, and violence confront both the teacher, the students, and to a lesser degree the parents and the school administrators. How they do and don’t deal with these issues is central to the film.

The performances are wonderful. Mohamed Fellag as the teacher has won a number of awards for this film, and the kids (most of whom have not acted previously) are beyond terrific.

Monsieur Lazhar will open at the E Street Cinema April 27.

See it if you can.

Boy ***

Boy is a New Zealand film about an 11-year old who lives with his grand mother on a farm, along with his younger brother, several cousins, and his goat. Shortly after his grand mother leaves to attend a funeral, the boy’s father shows up looking for a bag of money he had buried on the farm. Most of the film, then, concerns what happens between the father and son.

The film has been a tremendous success in New Zealand (the highest grossing film ever) and has been a success with both critics (86%) and audiences beyond New Zealand. Our cinema club gave it an approval rating of 82.3% (“excellent” and/or “good”).

Neither Ellen nor I were particularly taken with Boy, but we were clearly in the minority on this one.

The film has now been released in the US and can be seen in many major cities.