Thanks to Hong Kong International Film Festival, I had the opportunity to watch the movie Monsieur Lazhar (trailer) tonight. The story is open in that you cannot come up with a straight-forward theme to it. The film begins by a young teacher hanging herself in the classroom and thus creating a deadly atmosphere among her students and for the whole school. The appearance of another “teacher” (who later turned out to be a restaurant manager), Monsieur Lazhar, led the students to a new start. Monsieur Lazhar finally managed to walk out of the shadows of life together with the students.
Although the film is set in a primary school, I don’t think it tells a children’s story. For me, it’s more about facing death or hardships in our lives and appreciating life as it is. Monsieur Lazhar lost his family members in a terrorist attack in his country Algeria and was trapped in grief. As an immigrant, he was faced with nuanced doubts from his colleagues and the parents of his students during his teaching. Unlike other teachers, he didn’t avoid talking about the dead teacher. Instead, he encouraged his students to share their thoughts freely. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the parents and teachers, rather than the children, that were traumatized from the suicide. It’s hard to say whether children are more fragile than adults. Maybe they are, in some way. But once in a while we see the surprising flexibility in children;s thinking.
The journey for Monsieur Lazhar is not easy. But he healed himself during his time with the children. He has grown familiar with his colleagues, and he has gained the trust of the students. Though at last he had to leave, he was there with the children, offering his care and love, when they were most in need. Upon leaving, he wrote a fable for the students. I translate the rough English meaning as below:
A tree has a chrysalis and she protects it from rain and wind, hoping it would turn into a beautiful butterfly someday. But one day a storm came, and the chrysalis was blown to the ground. With a broken wing, the butterfly was never been able to see the world.
I think all good films always make you contemplate about your life and draw insights from what you’ve experienced. Monsieur Lazhar is one of them.