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Choristes, Les
2004 - PG13 - 95 Mins.
Director: Christophe Barratier
Producer: Arthur Cohn
Written By: Christophe Barratier and Phillipe Lopes-Curval
Starring: Gerard Jugnot, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Francois Berleand, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marie Bunel
Review by: Jennie Kermode
Official Site:
A huge hit in its native France, ‘Les Choristes,’ inspired by the 1945 film ‘La Cage aux Rossignols,’ recounts the experiences of a new schoolmaster who attempts to transform the harsh environment of a troubled boarding school with music. Its original score, by Bruno Coulais, was nominated for Oscars and Baftas, and the film has been highly acclaimed on the festival circuit. A successful blend of music and narrative, it tells a story which is, in places, brutal, yet remains uplifting.

It's a familiar story, of course - the truculent boys, the inspirational teacher, the headmaster who disapproves of his outlandish methods - and every new film in the genre risks having too little to say for itself. It's easy to overindulge in mawkish sentimentality, or to descend into pantomime in detailing repression. ‘Les Choristes,’ however, is very well judged, and gets the balancing act just about right. Its story is confident and gracefully structured. Told in retrospect, when successful composer Pierre (Jacques Perrin) returns to his home town for the funeral of his mother and meets a former classmate there, it unfolds with a poetic symmetry complimented by director Barratier's elegant images. The desaturated interior landscape of the school gives it a chilling aspect which softens as the film progresses, mirroring the emotional journey experienced by most of the boys. Likewise the music, sparing at first, builds in the background as it becomes a familiar part of the boys' lives. The film wisely eschews any macho dramatics relating to the reluctance of boys to sing - the challenge is to get these boys to do anything, and their teacher's primary focus is on building their confidence.

Well acted throughout, ‘Les Choristes’ benefits from a strong and affecting central performance by Gerard Jugnot, who brings humour and pathos to his humble character, making him a believable eccentric rather than a clown. His inspirational ability never overwhelms the vulnerability which enables the audience to relate to him. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the film's treatment of its villains, who are also allowed their moments of good humour and the chance to state their cases. It is unfortunate that each is reduced to something more cartoonish as the film approaches its climax, but the actors still work hard to do justice to their characters' different perspectives. The feelgood nature of the film is undercut by an awareness of their suffering, as by the suffering of punished boys, and there are several references to the recent war and the widows and orphans it has left. Among the latter is little Pepinot, who continues to expect that one Saturday his father will come to collect him. His relationship with his teacher, though observed indirectly, is at the emotional core of the film, along with the teacher's determination to bring about the success of the unusually talented youth Morhange.

As the young Morhange, Jean-Baptist Maunier showcases a remarkable singing voice, besides being a competent actor. ‘Les Choristes’ is not a musical in the traditional sense, but music is essential to it nonetheless, and not just for narrative reasons. Lovers of choral work may very well find the film worth watching for this aspect alone. The triumph of this film is that the music never seems extraneous; it is as passionate and witty and precisely positioned as the spoken language. Of course, the audience's familiarity with music as uplifting entertainment gives the narrative an advantage, and in some ways it would be more interesting to see a story about a teacher inspiring his class with maths. ‘Les Choristes’ is not a particularly ambitious film, but it is extremely well made, emotionally satisfying, and well worth going to see.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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