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Philippe Falardeau, director of the Canadian film Monsieur Lazhar, arrives at the Palm Springs International Film Festival Gala in Palm Springs, Calif., January 8, 2012.


Quebec director Philippe Falardeau could have gushed to the media. He could have done a Sally Field and blurted out something akin to her "You like me, right now, you like me!" Oscar acceptance speech years ago.

Instead, when the director of the art-house film Monsieur Lazhar received an official nomination Tuesday for best foreign-language film, Falardeau played it relatively cool, like art-house directors can.

"Every time I watch a hockey player trying to describe his feelings after winning the Stanley Cup he looks stupid, because it is undescribable and unbelievable. So, there you are: 'undescribable,' 'unbelievable,'" Falardeau joked over the phone Tuesday, emphasizing the two words he wanted reporters to use.

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He played up the fact that art-house directors can join in on the Oscar fun and yet still feel independent.

"I rejoice in the fact that an intimate film like Monsieur Lazhar can exist alongside major Hollywood productions in the biggest gala in the world. I think it says a lot about the fact that we have to make the movies that we have inside of us and not try to imitate any kind of recipe," Falardeau said.

Monsieur Lazhar is the sixth Canadian film to be nominated for best foreign-language film over the years. Last year, the Quebec film Incendies by director Denis Villeneuve was a nominee. The two films were both produced by Luc Déry and Kim McCraw.

Monsieur Lazhar, about an Algerian refugee who becomes a Grade 6 teacher in Montreal, has already won strong notice on the festival circuit – the crucial springboard for major awards recognition.

"This is a very long process which started back in September," Falardeau explained.

Oscar nominations don't just happen. They require a great deal of time and resources, Falardeau noted, all going toward subtly campaigning members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and building wider interest for a film. Telefilm Canada and Quebec's Société de développement des entreprises culturelles were central to the process.

"It's kind of a tricky campaign, because you can't do lobbying per se. But you have to make sure that people talk about the film," Falardeau said, noting the ads that Telefilm took out in trade publications such as Variety, along with festival appearances and a special screening for the foreign press for the recent Golden Globe awards all helping to propel talk among academy members.

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"So it's little things like that. But when you add it up, it becomes paramount," he said.

Still, Falardeau wasn't immune to small bursts of joy Tuesday. When his film was named early in the day, he screamed and jumped into his producer's arms, he said. "But I didn't cry! Write that down: I didn't cry!"

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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