At first glance, "Monsieur Lazhar" seems to be yet another middling film in the "inspirational teacher gets troubled students through personal turmoil" subgenre. Yet beneath its rather rote structure and feckless direction are some interesting ambiguities, manifested in the script and emphasized by wonderful acting that help this film to rise above the level of "Freedom Writers," "Coach Carter" and the like.
Regarding the titular instructor, an Algerian immigrant fighting to retain his refugee status in Canada as well as to keep his newfound classroom emotionally together after their previous teacher committed suicide, "Lazhar" hits familiar notes but with a surprising level of sophistication. Its treatment of the suicide, which occurred in the classroom, is as adult and uncompromising as the way Lazhar treats his students. For once, here’s a formula movie unafraid to confront the idea of loose ends - that maybe there isn’t an explanation for everything.
Still, the film is the type of easily forgotten heart-warmer that we see regularly traveling around art house theaters. Its aims are modest, though what it lacks in ambition it makes up for with feeling. The acting from lead Fellag (he’s credited by one name) is admirably subtle, wringing surprisingly large-scale emotion out of an underdeveloped backstory.
The DVD copy we were sent didn’t contain many extras, but one doubts there was much to explore in this no-frills classroom drama. The opening of "Lazhar" suggests a maudlin tearjerker, but Fellag gives us a real, human being to experience. You don’t need DVD extras to understand that.