‘Monsieur Lazhar’ sweeps the Genies

The film’s Genie triumph crowns a string of honours including an Oscar nomination

by Brian D. Johnson

Genie winners Sophie Nelisse and Fellag in 'Monsieur Lazhar'

Philippe Falardeau’s beloved Monsieur Lazhar took the Genie Awards by storm tonight, winning six of its nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for its French-Algerian star Fellag. The film’s Genie triumph crowns a string of honours including an Oscar nomination, the best Canadian feature prize at TIFF, and the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association.

Based on a Quebec play, Monsieur Lazhar is the touching drama of an Algerian refugee who takes over a teaching job in a Montreal classroom traumatized by his predecessor’s suicide. The film, which has earned over $3 million at the Canadian box office, beat out an unusually strong and diverse slate of contenders, including David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, which won five of its 11 nominations, including the trophy for Best Supporting Actor—awarded to Viggo Mortensen for his droll performance as Sigmund Freud. Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore had racked up 13 nominations, more than any other film, but won in just three categories—make-up, visual effects, and Best Actress for France’s Vanessa Paradis, who gives a searing portrait of a Parisian mother struggling to raise a boy with Down Syndrome.

In a year dominated by foreign talent and international co-productions (Café de Flore, A Dangerous Method, The Whistleblower, The Bang Bang Club, In Darkness), non-Canadian stars won three of four acting prizes—the exception was 11-year-old Sophie Nélisse, who won best supporting actress for her role in Monsieur Lazhar.

Accepting the Genie for Best Director, Falardeau alluded to his moment in the Oscar spotlight, saying, “I wrote a speech two weeks ago and didn’t have a chance to say it.” He went on to thank the “members of the Academy . . . of Canadian Cinema and Television.” Then, rather than rhyming off thank-yous for his own film, Falardeau expressed a graceful, heartfelt sentiment that saluted Canadian cinema as a whole. “I’m privileged to live in a time and place where our public system makes it possible to make personal films,” he said. Offering advice to aspiring directors, he urged them to “be persistent, be wild, be bold, be a little delinquent, take risks—and something good is bound to happen.”

Later backstage, he asked why Monsieur Lazhar‘s tragic story has struck such a chord, Falardeau said, “We didn’t make it a dark and heavy film. We made it a luminous film.” When invited  to compare the Genies to the Oscars, he replied, diplomatically, “The carpet is a little longer. . . it was a good general rehearsal for tonight.”

One un-Oscar-like attribute of the Genies is that the Best Actor and Best Actress winners, Fellag and Vanessa Paradis, were both MIA. Viggo Mortensen, however, showed up to carry the flag for A Dangerous Method—literally. In accepting the trophy for Best Supporting Actor, he said, “In order to cross the border, I will have to wrap it very safely. . . ” He then unfurled a banner of his cherished Montreal Canadiens and proceeded to swaddle the Genie in it. Mortensen joked about how Cronenberg, who has cast him in three movies, is the only director left who will hire him. Backstage, he praised Cronenberg for trusting him to portray Sigmund Freud, which struck him as a dangerous stretch at first. Also he worried, “how am I going to do this without boring everyone to death?” To his relief, his research revealed that Freud was a “a bit of a prankster” with a “dry sense of humour.”

Mortensen went on to explain how Cronenberg has been unfairly overlooked by the Oscars. That, he said, is because “David is too good.” His films “look deceptively simple. He makes something that’s very difficult look easy. When you see his movies a second time or a third time, you see more, not less. He’s always a step ahead.”

I’ve been attending the Genies for eons, and I usually dread the event. So often it’s been just a squalid reminder of Canadian cinema’s quiet desperation. But this is the first Genie ceremony I can remember that was not depressing. In fact, it was, dare I say, inspirational. Usually there’s one film that dominates, something from Arcand or Egoyan or Cronenberg, and the rest are not even in contention. This year, despite Monsieur Lazhar‘s sweep, all five Best picture nominees were strong, mature films. Not a dud in bunch. Look down the list—Lazhar, A Dangerous Method, Café de Flore, Starbuck and The Whistleblower—and you see a wildly diverse slate of robust, ambitious stories. And for once, the year’s top grossing Canadian title, Starbuck, was an ingenious crowd-pleaser with heart and critical pedigree. Even beyond the Best Picture list, there was surfeit of significant films recognized in other categories, notably Edwin Boyd, Take This Waltz and In Darkness.

Old-school cultural nationalists might lament the preponderance of co-productions and foreign actors among the Genie nominees. But the notion of a purely Canadian cinema, showing us wheat fields and ice rinks, now seems an anachronism. It’s no longer a landscape genre. Co-production has become an essential lifeline for indie cinema around the world. And  in our case, it also reflects the global complexion of stories that Canadian filmmakers feel driven to tell. To that extent, the fact that we are are making movies about South African photographers, Polish Jews hiding in sewers, an Algerian refugee undergoing culture shock, and the rivalry of Freud and Jung reflects a new maturity and an expansive outlook.

The 32nd annual Genie Awards were presented in Toronto at a televised event hosted by the CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos. Andrea Martin was originally set to co-host but dropped out at the last minute to audition for a U.S. network TV pilot. She taped a hilarious segment at the top of the show, saying she was going off to do a commercial for a bladder-control product. Then Strombo stepped out to commandeer the show with wit and aplomb, as musical acts like Ka’naan and the Sheepdogs—and figure skaters—provided entertainment. The bands were cool. But figure skating and Canadian cinema? Talk about an unholy alliance. It made no sense, and reminded us, once again, that this ain’t the Oscars. Next year let’s repatriate Cirque du Soleil.

The complete list of award winners:

BEST MOTION PICTURE / MEILLEUR FILM

MONSIEUR LAZHAR – Luc Déry, Kim McCraw

ACHIEVEMENT IN ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN / MEILLEURE DIRECTION ARTISTIQUE

JAMES MCATEER – A Dangerous Method

ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY / MEILLEURES IMAGES

JEAN-FRANÇOIS LORD – Snow & Ashes

ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN / MEILLEURS COSTUMES

MARIE-CHANTALE VAILLANCOURT – Funkytown

ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTION / MEILLEURE RÉALISATION

PHILIPPE FALARDEAU – Monsieur Lazhar

ACHIEVEMENT IN EDITING / MEILLEUR MONTAGE

STÉPHANE LAFLEUR – Monsieur Lazhar

ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKE-UP / MEILLEURS MAQUILLAGES

CHRISTIANE FATTORI, FRÉDÉRIC MARIN – Café de Flore

ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC – ORIGINAL SCORE / MEILLEURE MUSIQUE ORIGINALE

HOWARD SHORE – A Dangerous Method

ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC – ORIGINAL SONG / MEILLEURE CHANSON ORIGINALE

CAROLE FACAL – StarbuckQuelque part

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE / INTERPRÉTATION MASCULINE DANS UN PREMIER RÔLE

FELLAG – Monsieur Lazhar

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE / INTERPRÉTATION MASCULINE DANS UN RÔLE DE SOUTIEN

VIGGO MORTENSEN – A Dangerous Method

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE / INTERPRÉTATION FÉMININE DANS UN PREMIER RÔLE

VANESSA PARADIS – Café de Flore

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE / INTERPRÉTATION FÉMININE DANS UN RÔLE DE SOUTIEN

SOPHIE NÉLISSE – Monsieur Lazhar

 ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY / MEILLEUR SCÉNARIO

KEN SCOTT, MARTIN PETIT – Starbuck

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY / MEILLEURE ADAPTATION

PHILIPPE FALARDEAU – Monsieur Lazhar

ACHIEVEMENT IN OVERALL SOUND / MEILLEUR SON D’ENSEMBLE

OREST SUSHKO, CHRISTIAN COOKE, JACK HEEREN, REINHARD STERGAR, DON WHITE –

A Dangerous Method

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING / MEILLEUR MONTAGE SONORE

WAYNE GRIFFIN, ROB BERTOLA, TONY CURRIE, ALASTAIR GRAY, ANDY MALCOLM, MICHAEL O’FARRELL – A Dangerous Method

ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS / MEILLEURS EFFETS VISUELS

MARC CÔTÉ, STÉPHANIE BROUSSAUD, GARY CHUNTZ, VINCENT DUDOUET, CYNTHIA MOUROU, ERIC NORMANDIN, MARTIN PENSA, LUC SANFAÇON, SYLVAIN THÉROUX, NATHALIE TREMBLAY – Café de Flore

TED ROGERS AWARD FOR BEST FEATURE LENGTH DOCUMENTARY / Le prix Ted Rogers pour le meilleur long métrage documentaire

LA NUIT, ELLES DANSENT / AT NIGHT, THEY DANCE – Lucie Lambert, Isabelle Lavigne, Stéphane Thibault

BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY / MEILLEUR COURT MÉTRAGE DOCUMENTAIRE

SIRMILIK – Zacharias Kunuk, Joel McConvey, Kristina McLaughlin, Kevin McMahon, Michael McMahon, Geoff Morrison, Ryan J. Noth

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT DRAMA / MEILLEUR COURT MÉTRAGE DRAMATIQUE

DOUBLES WITH SLIGHT PEPPER – Ian Harnarine, Ryan Silbert

BEST ANIMATED SHORT / MEILLEUR COURT MÉTRAGE D’ANIMATION

ROMANCE – Georges Schwizgebel, René Chénier, Marc Bertrand

SPECIAL AWARDS

CLAUDE JUTRA AWARD / PRIX CLAUDE-JUTRA

Anne Émond – Nuit #1

CINEPLEX GOLDEN REEL AWARD / Prix de la Bobine d’Or Cineplex

STARBUCK – Producer: André Rouleau (Distributed by Les Films Christal in partnership with Entertainment One).




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‘Monsieur Lazhar’ sweeps the Genies

  1. Monsieur Lazhar is a wonderful film and I hope that as many Canadians as possible get a chance to see it.

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