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'Les Choristes' Review

Francois Berleand, Kad Merad, Gerard Jugnot in The Chorus
Kad Merad, François Berléand, Gérard Jugnot, Les choristes / The Chorus

The Chorus by Christophe Barratier

A gigantic hit in France, Christophe Barratier's feature-film début, Les choristes / The Chorus, is the newest cinematic incarnation of that age-old theme: the teacher who, through firmness, kindness, and understanding – mostly kindness and understanding – tames the savage hearts of his/her pupils.

In addition to those qualities, the boarding-school teacher in Les choristes, like the one played by Noël-Noël in La
cage aux rossignols
/ A Cage of Nightingales back in 1945, also brings music into the lives of his students, a rowdy bunch of future bank robbers, corrupt politicians, and serial killers. Music – or more specifically, singing – saves the rebellious boys (and those around them) from a myriad fates worse than death.

Les choristes begins with two middle-aged men, the renowned French conductor Pierre Morhange (Jacques Perrin) and an old friend, Pépinot (Didier Flamand), who are brought together by the death of their old music teacher. Before you can say flashback, they start reminiscing about their days at a boarding school for boys.

In 1949, the unemployed music teacher Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) arrives at the school to work as a teacher-cum-supervisor. The boys are a bunch of difficult, quasi-murderous brats who, according to the strict disciplinarian headmaster Rachin (François Berléand), will only learn to behave themselves if they are either beaten with a stick or put in solitary confinement – or, preferably, both.

Jean-Baptiste Maunier in Les Choristes

Mathieu, however, thinks otherwise. Although he has been warned that these boys are monsters disguised as human beings, he takes a liking to them, especially to the gifted, angelic-looking Pierre (Jean-Baptiste Maunier, photo) and the young orphan Pépinot (Maxence Perrin, Jacques' real-life son), who every weekend waits in vain at the gate for a visit from his parents.

Clément decides to teach the boys to sing, and becomes mesmerized by Pierre's heavenly voice. The boys, for their part, learn to trust and respect their teacher. Problems arise when the headmaster begins feeling threatened by Clément's success, especially when a particularly troublesome youth arrives at the school. Guess who eventually wins.

For treacle like this to work, several elements must be present: a screenplay full of humor and pathos (such as Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's for the more elaborate and more personal Madame Sousatzka); one or more solid performances (think of Shirley MacLaine's private tutor Madame Sousatzka, or Meryl Streep's real-life violin teacher Roberta Guaspari in Music of the Heart); the appropriately tender directorial touch (for instance, Tay Garnett's in the charmingly nostalgic 1941 drama Cheers for Miss Bishop); and/or a singing & crying Lulu (“A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong. That's a lot to learn, What, what can I give you in return?”).

Jacques Perrin in Les Choristes

Since MacLaine, Streep, and Lulu are nowhere to be seen (or heard) in Les choristes, while Barratier's direction and screenplay (with Philippe Lopes-Curval) proudly replace humor and pathos with cutesiness and bathos, this musicalized “Au prof avec amour” will appeal only to those who like their movies dripping with syrup.

Considering the film's blockbuster status in a number of countries, there are millions of such filmgoers out there. Those will surely not be disappointed with Les choristes – just make sure you check your blood-sugar level before entering the theater.

LES CHORISTES / THE CHORUS (2004). Dir.: Christophe Barratier. Cast: Gérard Jugnot, François Berléand, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Kad Merad, Marie Bunel, Jacques Perrin, Maxence Perrin, Didier Flamand, Grégory Gatignol, Thomas Blumenthal. Scr.: Christophe Barratier and Philippe Lopes-Curval; inspired by the 1945 motion picture La cage aux rossignols / A Cage of Nightingales, written by Georges Chaperot, Noël-Noël, and René Wheeler.

2 Academy Award Nominations

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Original Song: “Look to Your Path” (Vois sur ton chemin) by Bruno Coulais (music), Christophe Barratier (lyrics)


         
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10 Comments to 'Les Choristes' Review

  1. Annamarie Carstens

    i saw Les choristes and think it was the best film our namibia tv has show. i read jacques website every wednesday when i have a time in my office

  2. hannah stirrup

    jean-baptise maunier is sooooooooooo fit

  3. Finnola

    This was on Tv tonight. It was a beautiful film that does not pretend to be anything else but a story that has been told by teachers forever and all over the world. The negative ghetto story with the big competition win at the end, is not as true to the lives of teachers who just do things with their students. The circle goes endlessly on with no awards, violins and sobbing parents.
    But the truth is in the students who remember. So delicately captured by the Director.
    Life sometimes is hard but there is always sugar to be found.

  4. Danny Morris

    This film was amazing. I watched it in my french class at school and no have to do a project on it with the wonderful help of my teacher. Thank you very much.

  5. melissa&jasmine

    oh to the effing goodness , this movie was fantabulous i absoloutly loved it . I think it should win movie of the year for its couragous work and affirmation it has bought to the french and english people of our nation today .

  6. melissa&jasmine

    omg that movie was awesome :) the little peninot was so adorablE! AWWWWWWWWWWW.
    great work ! it was interesting movie (:

  7. Darwin Dela Cruz

    Les Choristes is a film that teaches many lessons in life. The film conveys meaningful thoughts through artistic portrayals that perfectly blend with musical scores and cinematography. Rarely you will find masterpiece movie as good as this. Congratulations to the production staff. Thank you for producing the film.

  8. Emma

    le film est un triomphe, la musique est certainment excellente avec beaucoup des jeunes tres doue pour le chanson (Melange) et aussi pour agissant, ce n'est pas faible, mais je suis anglais et quelquefois je ne comprenait tout mais cette probleme ne bloquer pas me plaisir dans un beau film. TRES BIEN!

    TRANSLATION:

    The film is a triumph, the music is certainly excellent with many gifted children in singing (melange) and also for acting, it is not weak, but I'm English and sometimes didn't understand everything (as there were no subtitles) but this problem did not stop my enjoyment of a beautiful film. WELL DONE!

  9. sarah

    your movie suked, it was the most boring thing i have ever seen. and the language that the children use is so vulger. god stop making films becuz you suck and so does your movies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The worst movie by the worst writter and director!!!

  10. rebecca

    hello there!!
    hows it going??
    i would just like to say that your film is awsome!
    i was sitting in my living room the oher day, thinking what film could i watch then it suddenly came to me!.. what about the chorous! it relly was a fabo film! =]
    i think that pierre morhange is totaly drop dead gorgeous! even though he is 70 years to young for me but oh well!
    send him my love please
    forever and ever your dearest love..