Movies about education are seldom convincing; their depiction of what goes on in the classroom hardly ever tallies with our own experiences of the bumps and leaps in the learning process or of the teachers who affected our lives. So the sweet and poignant Quebecois film Monsieur Lazhar, about an Algerian refugee who spends a few months teaching at an elementary school in Montreal, is a rare pleasure.
Writer-director Philippe Falardeau begins with the intersection of two tragedies. A sixth-grade teacher dies suddenly, and the principal (Danielle Proulx) is at a loss to find an immediate replacement mid-year. So when an Algerian immigrant named Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, in a performance of tremendous charm) presents himself in her office, claiming to have pedagogical experience in his homeland, she hires him pretty much on the spot. What she doesn’t know is that he’s not a permanent resident but a widowed refugee applying for political asylum.