The Chorus (2004)
(LES CHORISTES) (2004)
A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005
"When in Rome do as Romans do" is a principle apparently adopted by many non-American filmmakers with "Oscar" ambitions. Since for many of them Academy Award represents the only opportunity to make inroads into Hollywood, many films look identical to Hollywood mainstream in every detail other than setting or language. One manifestations of that phenomenon could be abundance of non-American Oscar contenders that feature uplifting yet sentimental stories and adorable children as protagonists. THE CHORUS, 2004 French drama directed by Christophe Barratier, belongs to this category.
The script, written by Barratier and Philippe Lopes-Curval, is based on 1945 classic French film A CAGE OF NIGHTINGALES. The film begins in present-day when famous conductor Pierre Morhange (played by Jacques Perrin) attends his mother's funeral and meets an old childhood friend Pepinot (played by Didier Flamand) who tells him about diary left by their old teacher Clement Mathieu (played by Gerard Jugnot). The plot than goes back to 1949 when Mathieu is failed musician forced to take all kinds of odd jobs, including that of a teacher in reform school for wayward boys. The institution is reserved for most hopeless of all delinquents and run by tyrannical headmaster Rachin (played by François Berléand) who believes in corporate punishment as the only educational tool. Mathieu has different ideas and, after stoically suffering all kinds of verbal abuse and sadistic pranks, begins to win boys' hearts and minds by setting up a boys' choir.
Barratier appears to have done his homework - THE CHORUS doesn't lack a single cliche from the films about dedicated teachers changing the lives of unprivileged or dysfunctional pupils. Again, the art is used a perfect tool to tame aggressive young minds and channel their construction into something more constructive than violence and other forms of social pathology. Again, the noble teacher has to fight prejudice, conservatism and bureaucracy - this time embodied in character played by François Berléand, actor who seems to be subscribed to every main villain's role in French films. Barratier even adds subplot about protagonist having crush on one of his pupil's young and single mother, simply in remove any doubts about his motivation for helping youths.
Having a plot so safe and so formulaic, THE CHORUS was on its way to become just another forgettable example of saccharine cinema. Thankfully, even the most formulaic films can be rescued when formulas are applied by real talents. Comedian Gerard Jugnot successfully carries film on his shoulders, thanks to his plain middle-aged look that provides realistic dimension to the film. The balance of humour and pathos - one of the most important thing for this kind of films - is achieved in THE CHORUS. The music, although not particularly memorable, is enjoyable and the professional boys choir - whose members play in the film - provides good soundtrack. For most of the audience THE CHORUS will end like a pleasant viewing experience, although few would dare to admit it.
RATING: 6/10 (++)