It’s official. Monsieur Lazhar is going to the Oscars. Radina Papukchieva spoke with director Philippe Falardeau about the big little miracle that an Academy Award nomination really is. 

This piece was originally published in The Concordian, vol. 29, issue 19 (Jan 31, 2012)

“I know you want to know how I feel. I’m going to tell you that every time I watch a hockey player trying to describe his feelings after winning the Stanley Cup, he looks stupid, because it is indescribable and unbelievable. So there you are: indescribable, unbelievable.”

This is how director Philippe Falardeau greeted reporters last Tuesday during a press conference following the announcement of the much-anticipated Oscar nomination for Monsieur Lazhar in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Monsieur Lazhar, Falardeau’s tale of an Algerian immigrant who comes to teach at an elementary school after the tragic suicide of another professor, joins five other Canadian films that have been nominated for the Oscar in the last 25 years: Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies (2010), Deepa Mehta’s Water (2005), Denys Arcand’s Oscar-winning The Barbarian Invasions (2003), as well as his Jesus of Montreal (1989) and The Decline of the American Empire (1986).

“I never had any California dream […] but when they announced the nomination I screamed and jumped into my producer’s arms like a baby, but I did not cry, write that down,” Falardeau said with a laugh.

What is also truly remarkable is that Quebec cinema has seen impressive growth and world recognition in the past few years—a testament to that are the five Academy Awards nominations that have been bestowed on Quebec films. “It’s probably more difficult for English Canadian films, because they are always in direct competition with Hollywood,” Falardeau explained.

Monsieur Lazhar is based on a one-man play. “The film takes place in a classroom, so in terms of production value, it doesn’t have the scope of Incendies, and I thought we might lose points for that. I guess the explanation is that the emotional force of the film did the rest,” Falardeau said about the film even being considered for a nomination.
He explained that while watching the play, he began imagining the characters, and as he was doing this he was already writing the first draft of the script. The movie was bought by American distributor Music Box back in September, and Falardeau is currently in Park City, Utah, to present it at the Sundance Film Festival. Did he get any advice from last year’s Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve? “He sent me the best text message last night. It said ‘Good night and good luck.’”

When I asked Falardeau where he hopes to go from here, after this nerve-wracking Oscar race, he said: “home.”
“There are doors opening, but to what building? I still think that my place is in Quebec, and I have been writing a film in another language, but not necessarily to tackle the American market. For me, things are not really changing, although I know I will probably get the opportunity to reach actors in a sphere that is a little bit inaccessible to us sometimes and that might give us some leverage,” he said.

Right now, Falardeau is keeping his two feet firmly on the ground, and working on his own projects.

Monsieur Lazhar is currently playing in 11 theatres across Montreal.

By Radina Papukchieva

Follow me on twitter @Papukchieva

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About Radina Papukchieva

Radina Papukchieva came to live in, be consumed by, and love Montreal in 2003 from Bulgaria, with her mother and little sister. She is still a semester away from graduating from Concordia University, where she is doing a double major in journalism and communication and cultural studies, as well as a minor in film studies. Her interests include film, TV, and popular culture. And Woody Allen. She is a film writer for CultMontreal.com and co-creator of The Cafe Phenomenon. Her list of inspirational people includes Tina Fey, primarily. Among her other interests are music, art, literature, and of course, food. Her film reviews have appeared in The Concordian and The Mirror.

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