When I was a high-school teacher, I lived near enough to the school that I would occasionally see my students out and about, living their daily lives — or, in the case when I saw my very-much-not-21 pupil in a bar, living their weekend lives. It was always a little awkward (never more so than when I ran into two students in the grocery store and all I had in my cart was red wine and kitty litter).
Usually in classroom-centric films, the instructor delivers a moving speech that informs his students about his motivation for teaching. That’s not the case in Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar,” an extraordinary French Canadian film that opens tomorrow. Lazhar is an Algerian immigrant hired to teach an elementary-school class after the former teacher hangs herself. While we see very little of Lazhar’s life outside of school, we do see brief images that show a quietly lonely man who leaves as small of a footprint as possible. And yet, in these short moments, we get a more complete picture of the teacher as a man than we ever did in “Dead Poets Society” or any other teacher film.
The shots of Lazhar at home really prove that pictures can be worth thousands of words. I only wonder what the image of me, my kitty litter and my wine revealed to those students in the Safeway.