The 5th Abu Dhabi Film Festival opened here last night with Canada’s foreign language Oscar submission in the French language, Philippe Falardeu’s Monsieur Lazhar.
Screened at a marvellous open-air venue on a full moon night with the majestically lit-up Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque keeping a watch over the star-spangled function, the movie was an intensely moving drama that unfolded in several layers.
An Algerian refugee, Bachir Lazhar (played Algerian writer-director Fellag), sorrowed by a personal tragedy becomes a teacher in a Montreal school, which is also coming to grips with its own terrible misfortune. A teacher there hangs herself in a classroom, much to the horror of the authorities and the emotional distress of the students, one of whom actually sees her.
Reminiscent of the original student-teacher drama, To Sir With Love, Monsieur Lazhar though follows a gloomy path rather than a somewhat aggressive one that the Sidney Poitier film treaded on.
Based on a play by Évelyne de la Cheneliére, “Monsieur Lazhar not only effectively alternates between the bleak and the sunny, but also probes deeply disturbing issues like the effect of unnatural death on young minds. Traces of child molestation and the desperation for survival through deceit are handled with feeling and an admirable sense of restraint.
Often touching, the work has great moments, as when Lazhar’s eyes well up at a schoolgirl’s purity of prose. His relationship with the children help him come to terms with his own horrific past, and Falardeu’s economy of words and visuals are indeed a treat, infusing a remarkable sense of neatness in the entire work.
I particularly liked the way the movie closes. It was a great shot.
Over the next 10 days, almost 200 films from over 40 countries (including five from India) will be screened here to the general public and delegates. Several celebrities are expected here, and one of them will be India’s Saif Ali Khan, who is scheduled to attend the Red Carpet gala of George Clooney’s Venice opener, Ides of March, tonight. Unfortunately Clooney will not be here, but for the large number of South Asian expats, Khan may well be the hero to look out for.
A Pakistani cab driver, who drove me yesterday, was disappointed that Indian stars like Juhi Chawla, Kajol and Madhuri Dixit would not be arriving. That was his idea of a great film festival.