Category Archives: Contemporary Art

Monsieur Lazhar (2012)

Monsieur Lazhar (2012)

Monsieur Lazhar touches the children world, the death world, the immigrant world, the silent world, the unfair world. In other words, it is about oppression and omission. All a child need is love and safeness to express themselves…

Review by Stephen Holden:

“”In the indelible opening scene of Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar,” Simon (Émilien Néron), a sixth grader at a Montreal middle school, catches a glimpse of the body of Martine, a popular teacher who has hanged herself from a pipe inside a classroom. He turns and runs.

We don’t see him report the fatality. The camera remains stationary, in a kind of daze, until several teachers dash into the building and frantically herd children returning from recess back outside. Simon’s friend Alice (Sophie Nélisse) detaches herself just long enough to steal a peek through a crack in the door before being shooed away. We never see the victim’s face.

The subtlety and discretion with which the revelation is handled says much about  “Monsieur Lazhar,” Mr. Falardeau’s fourth feature film, adapted from a one-person play by Evelyne de la Chenelière. The film, which was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film, picked up six Genies (Canadian Oscars), including best picture, director, adapted screenplay and actor. The title character is powerfully embodied by Fellag, an Algerian theater director and actor known for his one-man shows, who has lived in Paris since 1995.

“Monsieur Lazhar” sustains an exquisite balance between grown-up and child’s-eye views of education, teacher-student relations and peer-group interactions. The students come quirkily alive in superb naturalistic performances devoid of cuteness and stereotyping. Like no other film about middle school life that I can recall “Monsieur Lazhar” conveys the intensity and the fragility of these classroom bonds and the mutual trust they require.

Although it looks askance at the extreme measures parents and teachers take to protect children, often more knowledgeable and resilient than they’re given credit for, it acknowledges that some do need protection. It especially calls into question the strict modern rules that forbid any physical contact between teachers and students who in moments of crisis feel a desperate need for the comfort and reassurance that a hug can provide.

Amid the tempest stands the title character, Bachir Lazhar, a 55-year-old Algerian immigrant in need of a job who read about the suicide and presents himself to the stiff-backed principal (Danielle Proulx) as a substitute. Bachir, who says he taught grade school in Algiers for 19 years before settling in Quebec, seems to be a godsend. Polite, formal and soft-spoken, he takes over a class whose students are traumatized to varying degrees and easily wins their confidence and affection.

He is sternly instructed not to bring up the suicide and told that a psychologist will deal with the children’s reactions. During those sessions he is not allowed in the classroom. Bachir proves himself a caring, dedicated teacher, although there are some glitches. A dictation from Balzac is too difficult for his students. There are differences between Québécois and Algerian French. Most important, he doesn’t know the rules about physical contact and lightly cuffs an unruly student.

He teaches the fables of La Fontaine, and in an inspired stroke invites the students to invent their own. In the film’s most moving scene he regales them with one he invented about a chrysalis and a tree that addresses both Martine’s suicide and his own recent personal calamity, which he is barely able to talk about. Bachir isn’t exactly what he claims. In Algeria he was a civil servant who later owned a restaurant but has never taught. Nor is he, as he has stated, a permanent resident of Quebec. He is applying for political asylum following the horrific murder of his wife, a teacher, and their two children in a fire deliberately set the night before they were to have left Algeria to join him in Canada. The Lazhar family had been subjected to repeated death threats since the publication of his wife’s book criticizing the government’s reconciliation policy after the country’s civil war.

Without pushing the parallels, the story obliquely connects Bachir’s story with his empathy for the children, especially his intuition that Simon’s distress is more complex and deeply rooted than it at first appears. When the truth is finally revealed in a flood of tears, the boy’s heart-rending confession reminds you of how easily children can torture themselves with guilt for imagined sins.

Bachir cannot follow the rules. When the class needs his emotional support, he delivers a healing, common-sense speech about the suicide to the students who take it in stride. You applaud him for his bravery and tact.

“Don’t try to find a meaning in Martine’s death; there isn’t one,” this flawed hero declares. “A classroom is a place of friendship, of work, of courtesy, a place of life.”

Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, based on the stage play by Evelyne de la Chenelière; director of photography, Ronald Plante; edited by Stéphane Lafleur; music by Martin Léon; production design by Emmanuel Fréchette; costumes by Francesca Chamberland; produced by Luc Déry and Kim McCraw; released by Music Box Films. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes.

WITH: Fellag (Bachir Lazhar), Sophie Nélisse (Alice), Émilien Néron (Simon), Danielle Proulx (Mrs. Vaillancourt), Brigitte Poupart (Claire), Louis Champagne (Janitor), Jules Philip (Gaston), Francine Ruel (Mrs. Dumas) and Sophie Sanscartier (Audrée).””

Herb & Dorothy

Herb & Dorothy

“A couple of very modest means manages to build one of the most important contemporary art collections in history.”

“It all began in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan… An art collection built by a postal clerk and a librarian that has now spread throughout America.” They have spent their lives paying the bills with Dorothy’s salary and buying art with Herb’s salary, and that is how they were living for decades until Herb’s recent-death (2012). Their story is a huge inspiration. They were never buying as an investment, and they could never imagine that one day the National Gallery of Washington would not be able to handle all their collection. The “proletarian collectors” that were owners of an enormous and priceless art collection, mostly minimalist and conceptual, never sold a single piece and transferred the whole collection for a free-admission museum. More:


My Birthday with Steve McQueen


It is not everybody that is keen of contemporary art but – for sure – everyone is capable of appreciating it. All we need is sensitivity and education.  The Black British artist Steve McQueen is only a little more than 40 years old but already acclaimed all over the world. So, today was my birthday and I gave myself a promenade in his exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, and I caught myself again in love with his art.

The Black British Artist Steve McQueen

The Black British Artist Steve McQueen

“Queen and Country” (2007/2009) is a huge and massive wood drawer with about 100 vertical drawer divided in the two sides (front and back). Steve contacted 115 families, and received the permission to use their deceased family member’s picture in this exhibition. They all died during the recent war in Iraq. The drawer is interactive and invites you to open them and see the 160 facsimile stamp with the picture of the man or the woman who died serving their country – UK. Note that each stamp comes with the silhouette of the Queen, the same one that hasn’t approved the real circulation of these stamps but McQueen intention’s is to produce them all, and it is just a matter of time. We all know that one day it will happen but until there his art is unfinished.

Another installation that was striking for me: Static (2009) (check the link!), an unstable video of the aging Liberty Statue… speechless!

MqQueen is also the director of Shame (2011) and Hunger (2012), and they are both about the absence of freedom. The non freedom inside a British prison (Hunger) and the non freedom inside a “free” body (Shame). Both movies are shocking and disturbing. Hunger talks about the IRA volunteers, prisoners that had never received the status of political prisoners. They were so strong about their cause that they found themselves with no choice but to do a hunger strike. The astonishing performance of Michael Fassbender playing Bobby Sands shows us the decay of a human body in an agonizing and slow road to death because the British government under Margaret Thatcher’s command refused to give them back their status of political activists and political prisoners. Only after 10 deaths, the prisoners regained some rights but never the recognition for their political status. On the other hand, the director shows the other side of the bars, and how miserable some men working with those prisoners were felling, and some of them committed suicide. Hunger makes a dialogue with Steve McQueen’s other movie, Shame, where a man totally officially free lives incarcerated in his body and his compulsion for sex.

“There is no such thing as political murder, political bombing, political violence.  There is only criminal murder, criminal bombing, and criminal violence.  There will be no political status.”

– By Margaret Thatcher

Perceptual Constancy and Audrey Heller’s Photography


Perceptual constancy is an important aspect of our interaction with the world. The size constancy is the easiest one to understand. For example, two telephone poles look the same size when the first is viewed from 100 meters and when the second is viewed from 1 meter, even though the visual angle is very different. A person who appears to be 6 feet tall when he is nearby also appears to be 6 feet tall when he is standing across the room. Now, think of a penny… and you will understand the shape constancy in which the penny looks round both when viewed head on and when viewed from an acute angle. The color constancy is a little more difficult to grasp… think of the color of your car, for example… if you don’t have one, think of the one you are always taking a ride… you always perceive the color of the car as uniform, even under different light sources (sunlight, artificial light, shade). These are few examples of perceptual constancy that are essential to make our lives more stable, letting us freer to worry about other types of non-constancies (Goldstein, 2011; Cohen, forthcoming).

Here are some photos by Audrey Heller that plays with the phenomenon of size constancy:

The Art of Tara Donovan