By Dennis Morton
My usual MO is to watch a film at least 3 times and then attempt to write about it. But this time I’ve watched three films just once. I veer from my habitual practice for several reasons. One is that each of these films is worthy of your attention. Another is that I simply haven’t had the opportunity to watch them more than once. And still another reason is that they aren’t likely to inhabit local screens for long. So, if you want to catch them in the sanctity of a theatre, you’ll have to get a move on.
Monsieur Lazhar is a Canadian film. Its primary subject is grief – multiple permutations of grief, with a subtext of guilt. The eponymous Monsieur Lazhar is an immigrant to Canada, seeking permanent sanctuary from his home country. I’d like to tell you why, but that would be giving too much away.
Lazhar talks himself into a teaching position at an elementary school in Montreal, filling an unanticipated vacancy. The pupils are distraught by the event that has created the opening on the teaching staff. And so, in addition to the regular curriculum, Lazhar must be part therapist, too.
Monsieur Lazhar is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. I highly recommend it.
And now a few words about Bernie, an odd film based on a true story. The movie is set in Carthage, Texas. Director Richard Linklater informs us early on that east Texas is a world of its own, bearing little resemblance to other parts of the state. After watching this film, one would hope so.
Jack Black plays Bernie, a newcomer to Carthage who finds work at a local funeral parlor. Bernie is an ingratiating soul, perhaps fulsomely so. He is embraced by the community as if he were The Second Coming. And Jack Black’s performance is simply brilliant. I had no idea that he could sing. But he sure can, and well.
Eventually Bernie wins, however guardedly, the heart of the nastiest woman in town.
She is played, wonderfully, by Shirley MacLaine. Her character is as rich as she is mean, and eventually this leads to untoward events.
Much of the narrative is conveyed in small retrospective vignettes by the townsfolk. It’s a clever and convincing device, and it adds just the right touch of verisimilitude.
Bernie left me with a slightly icky feeling, but I can’t deny that’s it’s masterfully made.
Finally, a few words about Polisse, a French film that chronicles a squad of Parisian police officers who comprise the Child Protection Unit. I was immensely moved by Polisse, perhaps, in part, because I work with incarcerated children. Though poverty is certainly at the root of most delinquency, more than a few of the children I work with have suffered lives of abuse that have led them, eventually, to anti-social behavior.
Polisse details the private and public lives of these Parisian police officers. The work is emotionally taxing and bleeds ineluctably into their personal lives.
An actor named Joeystarr is particularly effective. In one extended scene he attempts to provide solace to an abandoned child. It’s a scene that will, I believe, stay with me forever. Even the memory of it brings tears to my eyes.
Polisse is in a class by itself, and certainly not for everyone. But I think it’s a great film. Find out for yourself, but hurry. It’s apt to have a short life on the big screen.