This is filmed in Quebec Canada and the dialogue is in French. I watched it as part of Singapore Writers Festival POP event, which included a Q&A session with four local writers Yong Shu Hoong, Genevie Wong, Verena Tay, and Yeow Kai Chai after the screening.
Simon, a fifth grade student arrives to class one morning to see the body of his class teacher Martine hanging from the ceiling. The school has trouble finding a replacement and when Bashir Lazhar from Algeria applies for the job, he is given with some hesitation.
The school treads carefully around the suicide, preferring to let the school physiologist handle it, but Bashir Lazhar is inevitably drawn into the topic by his students. Canadian school has the same discipline standard as Singapore schools. Students are to keep quiet when they are in queue, to greet and thank the teacher at the end of the lesson, and are generally well-behaved. Teachers are told no physical contact are allowed with the students – hitting, hugging etc, as well as other constraint in dealing with the board and fussy parents.
Like Bashir, we do not know what made the teacher hang herself in the classroom, and we find out together with him that she may have been in trouble when Simon reported her to the school for hugging him, and he was wrongly blamed for causing her suicide.
The Q&A provided insight as to how the writers viewed the movie. There were discussion to the physical contact between teachers and students. Bashir had not been trained as a teacher but his students love him, which begs the question of passion versus training. This movie was in a way discussing violence, and the subtlety of how the subject is treated versus Hollywood way, is something that came across as poignant.
This movie was a nominee for the Oscar for foreign language film, and I am glad my sons enjoyed it as well.