Simon (played by Emilien Neron) and Alice (by Sophie Nelisse) are both 11 years old. They are in the same class at a Montreal school and are playground friends. Their’s is a happy class, with many of their friends and made all the better because they adore their teacher, Martine. One morning, Simon takes his turn to collect the milk for the class, but as he delivers it he discovers Martine – she has hanged herself in the classroom. The sudden shock is profound and the whole class struggles with the trauma – particularly Simon, who tries not to feel the blame for her death – and the highly intelligent Alice, who has nobody at home to support her through it. In their own way, the children face the horrible truth and try to make sense of it. The school principal, Mme Vaillancourt (by Danielle Proulx) needs a replacement teacher and hires Bashir Lazhar (by Mohammed Fellag). He quickly takes up his role and does his best to continue to educate the class, but they are severely traumatised and he must find a way to deal with this gently, but effectively. Recently arrived from Algeria, Bashir finds he is quite unfamiliar with the Canadian school’s ways and only muddles through. He and the children encounter some challenges along the road to healing … it becomes clear that this will be no walk in the park for anyone involved.
This is a beautifully acted and sensitively made film. The performances of the children are particularly remarkable – to bring such strong emotions and maturity to this drama is quite astounding for those so young. As Lazhar, Mohammed Fellag is natural and unassuming, which draws you into this fascinating story very easily. His own situation brings parallels and complexities to the story, which is nicely balanced and well done. It’s no surprise that the movie has won audience awards at festivals and was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) in 2012 as Best Foreign Language Film. It is nicely adapted from the play “Bashir Lazhar” of the same name by Evelyne de la Cheneliere. Not a feel good movie, but very good.
Made in 2012. Directed by Phillipe Falardeau