An Oscar nominee this year for foreign language film, Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar finds finely-shaded drama in a venue that has defeated many a filmmaker: a classroom full of children. That's partly because of the situation: In a Montreal elementary school, a teacher commits suicide, and the desperate principal calls upon a volunteer -- Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar -- to serve as substitute. It's also partly due to casting, with relaxed, believable performances from the children -- including that of Sophie Nélisse and Émilion Néron as the two kids most deeply affected by the loss -- and Algerian comedian and actor Fellag bringing a gentle authority to Lazhar, a man who's as much in need of healing as his young charges. And it's largely due to Falardeau's keen observation of the modern-day ecology of a school, his fine, affecting portrayal of the interplay between adult and child, teacher and student, and his ability to build drama that only gains in power from its steadfast avoidance of the melodramatic.
Click on the player button to hear my interview with Falardeau, or the title to download.