This film has gathered many favourable reviews, dealing as it does with issues of loss, grief, attachment and healing. As many reviewers on this page have already outlined the plot, I'll concentrate more on performance and direction, and how successful this is overall.
The acting throughout is very impressive, especially from those playing the schoolchildren, with some very moving and luminous performances, reflecting anger, frustration, despair, the weight of guilt, and the unquenchable need for love and physical contact. This quietly understated film, while not quite in the class of the 'documentary' Etre et Avoir, allows us to observe the journey which many of the characters, both adult & child, make through grief, abandonment, isolation, guilt to redemption, growth and healing, where children are also able to help adults (Mr Lazhar) heal and recover, just as he also helps them confront their own traumas, despite the rigidity of the education system, which requires that they and other adults need to 'move on', to the detriment of all.
Monsieur Lazhar looks at the merits and weaknesses of modern v 'traditional' teaching/learning approaches, and the gaping hole which forbids physical contact between teacher & child. In our eagerness to protect against potential abuse, we have also forsaken one of the most natural of human instincts, the need for consolation, and this is something this film makes explicit. A number of scenes between children and adults, and even between adults (Lazhar visiting a female colleague) underlines the 'learned awkwardness' which can bedevil communication and understanding. Sometimes the structure of the educational system is also seen to prove counterproductive to young people trying to understand their way through life.
This gentle film boasts no melodramatic climaxes, preferring to underplay the level of emotional undercurrents, though always able to hint at the weight of the iceberg which lies beneath even everyday and apparently mundane incidents. Perhaps dramatically the film suffers from the new teacher being given a surprisingly gentle reception by his traumatised class, and there is a sense that the direction avoids the uncomfortable and the challenging elements one might expect in the circumstances. However, overall this is a strong, yet understated piece of cinema, with an appropriately sensitive soundtrack, and some thoroughly engaging performances.
As my review copy was simply a disc, I'm unable to comment on the value/quality of the accompanying notes etc. This is a journey to watch for the strength of the engaging performances, and the mirror of society it reflects.