The Chorus (2004) / Drama
aka Les Choristes
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, adult references, and some violence
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Gerard Jugnot, Francois Berleand, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Jacques Perrin, Kad Merad, Marie Bunel, Philippe Du Janerand, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Maxence Perrin, Didier Flamand, Gregory Gatignol, Cyril Bernicot, Monique Ditisheim, Simon Fargeot
Director: Christophe Barratier
Screenplay: Cristophe Barratier, Philippe Lopes-Curval
Review published January 14, 2005
On an obvious level, The Chorus is a film you’ve seen many times before, about the unorthodox teacher who gets a class full of ne’er-do-wells who are written off by society, and inspires them to finally be productive through hard work and sheer determination. One possible reason for this familiarity: it is a remake of the lesser-known 1945 French film, A Cage of Nightingales, which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay in 1948. Hollywood loves these kinds of movies, and has even had its share of teachers who inspire through music; Mr. Holland’s Opus and Music of the Heart, are but two recent examples. I’d bet my bottom dollar, The Chorus will be another Hollywood remake of a French film before too long. Also like those other movies, it’s the sort of story one can fall in love with or truly despise, depending on one’s mood or disposition to feel-good, manipulative, music-oriented productions.
The story is told in flashback mode, but before we get there, we see a symphony conductor and an old chum reminiscing about the time they were in a boarding school for (mostly) troubled youth and orphans. It seems that their influential teacher, Mr. Mathieu, had written memoirs about the period he was with the boys at that school. After this prologue, and up until the final epilogue, The Chorus stays in the era of France in the 1940s, where Mathieu first starts at this school filled with delinquent behavior, teachers that exact severe punishments, and a headmaster who sees these children as if they were corrupt to the point where they are hopeless. Mathieu is there to teach, but he has also dabbled as a composer, and when he doesn’t seem to be making much headway in gaining their confidence through his patience and friendship, he tries a new angle after hearing a few of the boys sing in mockery at him forming a boy’s choir. The boys are, to put it kindly, raw in their talent, but one boy in particular, Morhange, has a natural gift that Mathieu is earnest to cultivate. Too bad he is one of the biggest troublemakers in the school. It also doesn’t help that the headmaster is against the idea, and threatens to give Mathieu the axe, should his unorthodox idea not pan out.
The Chorus may be the first film written and directed by producer Cristophe Barratier, and by all indications, he knows how to make a movie. Obviously, with a film about a choir, you’d expect some good music, at the very least, but in addition to the boys singing, the film is helped immensely by the fantastic music accompaniment, utilizing a few songs by Barratier himself, along with an amazing score by Bruno Coulais (Winged Migration, The Crimson Rivers). It’s quite a soundtrack. Then there is the look of the film, which is top-notch in every department, particularly in the cinematography by Dominique Gentil (Winged Migration, Moolaade) and Carlo Varini (The Big Blue, Subway). Great costumes and a fine sense of period help flesh out an already interesting story greatly.
Along with a fantastic lead performance from Gerard Jugnot, The Chorus is as finely tuned a feel-good movie as there is this year, and definitely an easy choice for a universal crowd-pleaser. Moving and inspirational -- it may not offer many surprises, but like a fine piece of music, there is beauty when hearing it played with precision, even if we’ve heard it countless times before.
©2005 Vince Leo