Film-Forward Review: [THE CHORUS (LES CHORISTES)]

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Directed by: Christophe Barratier.
Produced by: Jacques Perrin, Arthur Cohn & Nicolas Mauvernay.
Written by: Christophe Barratier & Philippe Lopes Curval, based on the film La Cage aux Rossignols
Director of Photography: Carlo Varini & Dominique Gentil.
Edited by: Yves Deschamps.
Music by: Bruno Coulais.
Released by: Miramax.
Language: French with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: France. 96 min. Rated: PG-13.
With: Gérard Jugnot, François Berléand & Kad Merad.

Boys Town meets The Sound of Music. Failed composer Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) arrives at a rural boarding school for difficult children just in time to see a grandfatherly janitor become injured by a vicious prank. The military-like headmaster, Rachin (François Berléand), calls all the students to together and demands that the perpetrator come forward. When no one does, Rachin punishes everyone (no recess or family visits) until he finds out who’s responsible. Under Rachin’s draconian standard, the rod is never spared. In a reaction to the gloomy and corrosive atmosphere, the timid Mathieu (“baldy” or “bullet head” as the kids taunt him) suddenly holds singing auditions. Of course, all the boys want to sing, and as luck would have it, a boy described by Rachin as “the spawn of the devil” secretly has a voice of an angel and becomes the star singer. In no time at all, the choir is in full voice. Their music even mellows the principal, who starts to make paper airplanes behind closed doors.

Set only four years after World War II, the illusions to German-occupied France are obvious. Subtle the film is not. Fortunately, the sweetness is kept in limited doses. Most of the children are sullen and withdrawn. There is, however, a curly-haired moppet with bottle-cap lenses and another boy who, like clockwork, waits by the entrance every Saturday for a father that will never come. And despite its predictability, The Chorus doesn’t fail to move. It is not nearly as manipulative as say, Finding Neverland, which is also about troubled children. The most popular homegrown hit last year, The Chorus is the French equivalent to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Slight and modest, its success is larger than its parts. Kent Turner
January 14, 2005



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