The film opens with a hanging. A Grade 6 pupil walks into a classroom and finds his teacher’s body dangling from a light fixture. The principal played by Danielle Proulx immediately springs into action. She hires a grief counsellor and orders the classroom stripped and repainted.
Finding a substitute teacher for the stricken class is more challenging. Her only option is Bachir Lazhar, the Algerian immigrant (Mohammed Fellag) who gatecrashes the school in the wake of this tragedy. His formal demeanor and tentative grasp of the Quebec curriculum set him apart from the school’s mostly female staff. But his intelligence and genuine warmth gradually win over the students and staff.
As we learn more about his own personal tragedy, we realize that he is well equipped to help these children deal with their grief. He does not hesitate to question the psychologist’s methods and interfere with the school’s healing process.
It is not surprising that Monsieur Lazhar received an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film.