‘Monsieur Lazhar’: the ideal immigrant in the neoliberal Qubcois imagination

The ability of Canadian films to bring the immigrant experience to the centre of public debate is certainly impressive. ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ (2011) depicts the life of one such immigrant without the blemishes of Hollywood’s essentialist tropes. The film tells the story of an exile from Algeria who physically escapes the violence of civil war in his native land, only to find himself trapped in a new psychological battle zone of a Qubec community torn apart by suicide and grief. As a substitute teacher, he ultimately becomes the surrogate cultural guardian and saviour of a cadre of Canadian children. This article examines the humanism of lead character Bachir Lazhar, his transformation from a French-speaking Algerian to a displaced francophone exile, and the characteristics that make him an admired and welcomed immigrant by francophone Canadians. Analysed within the context of postcolonial theory and identity politics, the article will expose the collapsing categories of identification which mandate that his valour and magnanimity depend upon negating his own Algerian cultural identity. In short, the more Bachir Lazhar is ‘fetishized’, in other words viewed within the narrow confines of cultural fetishism (ethnic food, tea-drinking habit, and belly dancing), the easier it becomes for the Canadian viewer to embrace him. Bibliogr., notes, sum. [Journal abstract]

Title:‘Monsieur Lazhar’: the ideal immigrant in the neoliberal Qubcois imagination
Author:Labidi, Imed
Year:2014
Periodical: The Journal of North African Studies (ISSN 1743-9345)
Volume:20
Issue:3
Pages:374-390
Language:English
Geographic terms: Algeria
Canada
External link:https://doi.org/10.1080/13629387.2014.917584
Abstract:The ability of Canadian films to bring the immigrant experience to the centre of public debate is certainly impressive. ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ (2011) depicts the life of one such immigrant without the blemishes of Hollywood’s essentialist tropes. The film tells the story of an exile from Algeria who physically escapes the violence of civil war in his native land, only to find himself trapped in a new psychological battle zone of a Qubec community torn apart by suicide and grief. As a substitute teacher, he ultimately becomes the surrogate cultural guardian and saviour of a cadre of Canadian children. This article examines the humanism of lead character Bachir Lazhar, his transformation from a French-speaking Algerian to a displaced francophone exile, and the characteristics that make him an admired and welcomed immigrant by francophone Canadians. Analysed within the context of postcolonial theory and identity politics, the article will expose the collapsing categories of identification which mandate that his valour and magnanimity depend upon negating his own Algerian cultural identity. In short, the more Bachir Lazhar is ‘fetishized’, in other words viewed within the narrow confines of cultural fetishism (ethnic food, tea-drinking habit, and belly dancing), the easier it becomes for the Canadian viewer to embrace him. Bibliogr., notes, sum. [Journal abstract]