Canadian director Philippe Falardeau was nominated for an Academy Award for his film Monsieur Lazhar, which depicts an Algerian immigrant substitute teacher who takes over a class whose previous instructor has committed suicide.
The peculiarity of Washington’s film scene is such that even being feted at one of the world’s most enchanting embassies, located within a stone’s throw of the Capitol, can be a minor letdown.
Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau has come a long way. His first foray into filmmaking came when he was a contestant on a Canadian game show that sent him around the world to make several short films in a six-month window.
His feature films, with titles such as “The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge” and “Congorama,” place him only tangentially in the American art-house and foreign-language circuit. And yet, there he was earlier this year, walking the red carpet in Hollywood with the likes of George Clooney at the Academy Awards.
So it’s not that Filmfest DC — which screened Falardeau’s latest film, the Oscar-nominated “Monsieur Lazhar” — doesn’t have its charms. Or that Falardeau, in town for Filmfest and as part of a worldwide tour to tout the film and discuss everything from Canada’s immigration policies to the food in Vancouver, isn’t honored to have his government’s adulation. It’s just, well, the Oscars have a way of grabbing the imagination.
“There are two things in the United States that are impressive,” Falardeau told a collection of Canadian dignitaries, members of the press and cineasts at the Canadian Embassy last Friday. “The Grand Canyon and the red carpet.”
And as far as that goes, the jeans-and-sneakers-clad director added, one can see the canyon whenever one wants. Walking the carpet is a bit more rare.
‘Act Like You’ve Been There’
It’s been a whirlwind few months for the Quebec-born Falardeau.
“Monsieur Lazhar,” his fourth feature, is the story of an Algerian immigrant to Quebec who is hired to be a long-term substitute for an elementary school class whose teacher has committed suicide. The title character has his own traumas to work through and is seeking political asylum. It’s a quiet film that avoids most of the cliches of similar films that feature an outsider teacher helping students heal or harness inner potential.
The film began attracting attention at the Sundance Film Festival in January, which was followed later that month by its Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film.
It ended up losing to Iran’s “A Separation,” at February’s Oscars, but the praise for the film hasn’t abated. It opened in limited U.S. release last week.
Falardeau seems to be taking it all in stride and in good humor. “You’ve got to act like you’ve been there,” he said of the Oscars, adding that when he walked the fabled red carpet, a publicist “had to hold a sign with my name on it and the film because no one knew who I was.”
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