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With Radical Changes in the Education System Michael Gove and His Colleagues Should View the French Canadian Film 'Monsieur Lazhar'

06/03/2013 13:16 GMT | Updated 04/05/2013 10:12 BST

Government ministers come in for some stick and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary is no exception. High standards can be achieved and where better to begin to lay the foundations than in the primary schools.

To suggest that primary schools should be fined if students from low income families who receive free school meals don't reach the expected standard and that the £900 pupil premium allocation allocated to such pupils should be transferred to the secondary school to give additional support isn't radical. It's sensible and courageous. Couple that by linking the worst performing schools with high performing ones and there's the chance of positive and progressive influences.

The teacher, be it primary, secondary or university is the great influence, the person remembered long into life, the person that encouraged,influenced, setparameters, pushed fear into the background, encouraged an adventurous approach, developed individual strengths and raised expectations far beyond what was thought possible. What better place to begin this than the primary school where the 'big adventure' begins.The tragedy is what is lost and if government is serious and I do believe that Michael Gove and David Laws, Lib Dem Education Minister are, then radical reform is needed and a structure put in place that engenders cross-party agreement. No curriculum is perfect and mistakes will be made but that's part of any progressive approach. Perhaps none of these proposals are really radical. Perhaps they're common sense moves that should have been made long back. The schools hold the future.

What better to summarise the core essence than a quote from the award winning 2011 French Canadian film, Monsieur Lazhar :

"A classroom is a place of friendship, of work, of courtesy, a place of life."

Michael Gove and his colleagues should take time to view this film.

Monsieur Lazhar is a gentle, fable-like all embracing critically acclaimed and exquisite film from the Montreal based writer-director Philippe Falardeau which touches on some of the areas that make national press coverage - the education system, physical contact when a hug is instinctively natural and healing, a 'specialist' rather than the teacher to deal with the grieving process, the politics of immigration, national culture and every teacher investing something of themselves in their class. It's an exquisite fable of loss and belonging from the producers of Incendies (Director Denis Villeneuve 2010) and presents a panorama of ideas and emotions.

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The camera moves slightly and focuses on Martine, a popular Grade 6 teacher hanging from a classroom beam. The teachers hurry the children away but Alice runs back and looks through a crack in the classroom door. No gunshots, no visible savagery, just a solitary suicide. So begins Monsieur Lazhar the 2012 Canadian Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, the story of an Algerian immigrant substitute teacher imparting higher learning and emotional healing to a Montreal middle school class. Be honest, that doesn't sound like a must watch wake-up call. How wrong you can be. Falardeau adapted and expanded Evelyn de la Cheneliere's one-act stage play of the same name into an award winning, unsentimental, powerful and subtle drama that will win your heart.

As if by magic Bachir Lazhar appears at the school, offers his services as a substitute teacher and is readily accepted. His gentleness, quirky humour, compassion and dedication gradually earn him the trust of the class but cultural differences begin to surface - Bachir's desire to impart higher learning grinds to a halt with the realisation that the students have no idea who Balzac is and a dictation from one of his works proves too hard. Add to that the differences between Quebecois and Algerian French and the problems begin to mount but this doesn't deter Bachir from his quest.

Allowing the class to grieve draws Bachir to two charasmatic pupils, both deeply affected by their teacher's death, Alice (Sophie Nelise), the child of a single mother who works as an airline pilot and is rarely home (Evelyn de la Cheneliere makes a cameo appearance as Alice's mother) and Simon (Emilien Neron) who carries a guilty secret. In helping the class to deal with their grief Bachir's own recent loss and emotional turmoil is revealed.

It was a stroke of genius to cast Mohammed Fellage (generally known as Fellage) as Bachir Lazhar. Forced to flee Algeria during the brutal 1990s civil war, lionized by North Africans in Paris but little known outside of those communities, Fellage conveys dignity and fragility in an award winning performance but it's the stunning child actors particularly Sophie Nelise (Alice) and Emilien Neron (Simon) that hold you and fill the screen with heart rending emotion in this story of universal compassion. The simple and exquisitely beautiful final scene with Bachir and Alice defines the quality of Monsieur Lazhar.

Gentle, beautiful, politically astute, sensitive, emotional and ever so watchable.

Philippe Falardeau is currently working on a black comedy provisionally titled Prescottt Etc. - set in rural Quebec, an MP holds the balance of power on an important parliamentary vote

Director: Philippe Falardeau. Sundance Film Festival Official Selection 2011, Canadian Awards (Genies) 2011, Best Canadian Film Toronto International Film Festival 2011, Audience Award Best Film Sydney International Film Festival 2011, Prix Du Public Award and the Variety Piazza Grande Award Locarno Film Festival 2011, Audience Award Best Film Rotterdam Film Festival 2011, Special Jury Prize Award Namur Film Festival 2011, Art Cinema Award Hamburg Film Festival 2011, People's Choice Award Windsor International Film Festival 2011, Academy Award Nominee Best Foreign Film 2012. Country of Origin: Canada 2011 Genre: Drama. Language: French, English and Arabic with English subtitles. 94mins. Rating *****

Released on DVD October 2011

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