Monsieur Lazhar

Rated 4.0

Adapted from a play by …velyne de la Chenelière, this French-Canadian classroom drama comes off as an unusually honest feel-good movie emerging from patently extreme circumstances. An Algerian refugee named Bachir Lazhar (avuncular Mohamed Fellag) presents himself at a Montréal school, volunteering to assume the instruction duties for a class whose teacher has committed suicide. Bachir gets the job and is soon embroiled in the difficulties endured by the traumatized kids in his class—and in the travails of his newfound colleagues, who give him a somewhat mixed welcome. A couple of exceptionally bright kids, Alice (Sophie Nélisse) and Simon (…milien Néron), present some especially dramatic challenges. Two colleagues, the somewhat autocratic school principal (Danielle Proulx) and the warmly forthcoming Claire (Brigitte Poupart), put him to contrasting emotional tests. Plus, all sorts of backstory keeps leaking in, to increasingly ironic effect—Lazhar’s desperate flight from Algeria and the loss of his family there, the fraught and convoluted circumstances of the suicide, the intramural politics of parents and teachers. That stacked premise may smack of morbid excess, but the directness and simplicity in writer-director Philippe Falardeau’s approach keeps it all on a surprisingly even keel. Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13