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Rare is the film that I can watch time and time again without it losing its magic, rarer still the French language film that can make any viewer forget that it's in French and subtitled. I find both things to be true of "The Chorus", a 2004 release which I've watched many a time with groups of children learning French who, universally, have loved it, even the ones who are maybe not so keen on the French language itself. It's a 12 certificate and the tale of a school for naughty boys in France after WWII which is transformed by the arrival of Clément Mathieu, a humble "pion" - or supervisor who is a step below a teacher in the strict hierarchy of the school and who is expected to keep the boys in order rather than trying to open their minds. Rather than subscribing to the philosophy of "action - reaction" that is embraced by the rigid disciplinarian that is Rachin, the Headteacher, Mathieu brings music and singing to the boys with interesting results.
The film appeals with both the haunting beauty of the sound track but also through the strength of the story. Without spoiling the story at all I would defy anyone to watch it without having a tear in their eye now and then (a scene involving paper aeroplanes of all things has me reaching for the tissues every time) and without really feeling for the boys and for their choir master. In some ways the film is a bit slow at the start as it starts with the recollections of one of the boys - we learn which one at the end of the film - now quite old, as fifty years have passed and successful in music. He is visited by Pépinot, a friend and fellow former pupil at the school and through their supervisor's diary, M.Mathieu, the tale unfolds in charming and beautifully filmed fashion.
The children are particularly well cast, especially a central character, Morhange - in this school the boys are known by their surnames, is played by Jean-Baptiste Maunier who has gone on to have success as both an actor and singer in France and the USA where he now lives. In "The Chorus" he has the voice and face of an angel but the ability to be a convincing less than compliant pupil that the film requires. In terms of the adult actors, Gérard Jugnot, who plays M.Mathieu and also co-produced the film, actually re-mortgaging his flat to finance it apparently, will need no introduction to anyone who has watched a few French films. He excels in this role and is instantly likeable and plays the scenes where the boys initially challenge him with the humour for which is probably better known, and equally be a slightly tragic figure when he harbours feelings for the mother of Morhange who is oblivious. I think perhaps it is a rare actor who can portray real sympathy for the tiny 6 or 7 year old who is Pépinot, who is waiting for his parents to come every Saturday, even though they have been victims of the war, without seeming creepy or somehow unconvincing. Jugnot manages both brilliantly and is the ray of sunshine hitting the "fond de l'étang", the name of the school - literally the bottom of the pond, that the plot requires.
Even as music brings some lessening of the harsh environment (think same kind of theme as "Dead Poets Society") there are frequent reminders what a harsh environment the school is. The Headteacher Rachin may lighten up enough to kick a football in the playground, but the fear of being locked up in a dark windowless room or beaten if such a punishment is deemed a suitable reaction is never far away, and not everyone can be won over. In such an environment as the school, the innocence and beauty of the songs that the boys are taught, in secret at first and then with the knowledge of the Headteacher, are all the more striking. I particularly like " Carresse Sur L'océan" - probably one of the rare track titles that doesn't need translating, but whether you understand the lyrics or not the songs are bound to tug at your heart strings and stay in your head after the film is done.
There's a lot more to the story and twists and turns that I have not mentioned - I think the story is best discovered through the film, which is 92 minutes long and which I picked up for under £5 from amazon. There are a number of extras on the film including trailers and also a documentary on the making of the film which was director Christophe Barratier's first. Though some may find this film a little too whimsical, I think it manages to be not too cloying, it's well paced and balanced and there are some really beautiful shots in it. I think as a whole the story works well, even though the ending it somewhat predictable it's satisfying and it's an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. The Chorus did have some international recognition, but if it hasn't come to your attention yet it is a film which is worth the watch and a bit different from the norm, high on charm and refreshingly free of Hollywood cliche. Highly recommended.
link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVtJgU6WTj8 trailer with subtitles - which erroneously states that the boys in the school are orphans but is a good intro to the film and music
It is not often I go for subtitled films but this one came with a recommendation from a friend so I thought I would give it a try and I must say it was a very enjoyable drama.
Gerard Jugnot stars as Clement a teaching assistant in their forties who has just started a job at a new school in the years just after the end of WWII. The school is one for troublesome males and is a sort of borstal type place for those students excluded from regular school. Clement clashes with the strict abusive regime in the school which is personified in the brutal principal, a man called Rachin who is played by Francois Breland. Clement tries to reach out to the boys through music by starting a school choir and he must overcome the mistrust and cynicism of the students and the views of those in authority at the school who think he is too soft..
I liked the storyline that ran through this film, it is an intelligent bit of film making and tells a nice tale. Certainly the students despite the fact that they are meant to be trouble seem a little tame compared with what you see these days but the film works well even though your expectations are not really met on that score.
Whilst the plot does eventually vere to the predictable I liked the atmospheric feel of the film and having to read subtitles did not detract from that enjoyment. The performances are good especially from some of the students who have real prescence on camera.
A good foreign film and one worth watching. Four stars from me.
I have to admit i do not often watch foreign films as i do not enjoy reading sub titles and find them distracting and they often move too fast than i can actually read them! However i watched the Chorus a few months back and have watched it four times since...it is one of my fav films of all time.
It tells a simple but sweet story and is beautiful in its compositions and the way it tells the story. The film is set in a boarding school in France for naughty voys. A new teacher joins the school and decides to set up a choir. He finds that one of the schools naughtiest boys has the best voice. The teacher experiences many challenges in trying to get naughty boys to behave and sing as a choir.
This film is a real must see with a great story and some fantastic actic actors with some really great voices. Simply fantastic!
Set in 1948 in a French school called 'Ford de l'etang' (rock bottom). This school is exactly that, the bottom of the heap. It is a correctional boarding school for difficult boys. The story begins with Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot), an unemployed music teacher who finds a job working as a supervisor at Ford de l'etang. He is shocked at the brutal and harsh methods used by the head teacher, Rachin (Francois Berleand), and sets out to change the boys using his own methods; acquainting them with the magic and power of music.
Les Choristes is based on a true story, which makes it all the more touching. Watching this film and listening to the beauty of the music is guaranteed to give you a lump in your throat, as the music transforms even the most disruptive pupils into disciplined young men.
Les choristes is brilliantly acted, with real passion and emotion. An astonishing film; I highly recommend it. Although, it's probably better suited to women than to men.
I have a tune running around in my head, its been there for a few weeks now but in all honesty, I'm in no rush to get rid of it. It has the pure sweetness of a soprano choir boy rising emotionally with a beautiful, simple melody and it keeps me smiling.
The voice is that of Jean-Baptiste Maunier, the film is last years 'best foreign film' oscar winner - Les Choristes.
Les Choristes is set in post war France, in a correctional boarding school for young boys. Le Fond l'etang, Clemant Mathieu is an unemployed music teacher who becomes their new teacher. He finds the way the children are treated at the school incomprehensible when he first starts, The headmaster is strict and dispenses tough discipline, the school has a very definite policy of action, reaction! The smallest misdemeanour is punished harshly, either with violence or solitary confinement. M. Mathieu's first introduction to the school is a practical joke gone wrong, resulting in the caretaker being badly injured. The schools reaction is to punish any random boy, until the true culprit owns up.
Naturally with a title like, 'Les Choristes' M. Mathieu gets through to the boys through song, he hears them singing dirty songs and decides that he will form a choir. In the manner of 'Mr Hollands Opus' he writes all the music for them, and when the choir is banned by the headmaster, he teaches them in their dormitory at night.
Considering the setting of the school there have to be sub plots running through it following the misbehaviour of the boys and how it is dealt with, and the repercussions of the punishments, particularly when they were misplaced. There is one particular boy, very hard, who is unfairly expelled to a young offenders institution. This creates one of my favourite lines in the film when Mathieu, who realises that there is not really any evidence that the boy was guilty, and he shouts out the window 'non', then quietly to himself 'il est ma seule baritone', (No he is my only baritone!) The boy was innocent.
The film is certainly not a happy ever after, although one of the boys goes on to great things, the institution in which they were raise will undoubtably have repercussions for many later on in life.
The film is naturally compared to Mr Hollands Opus, but I don't feel there is any comparison, I much preferred this one, and felt Mr Holland to be a bit a wimp, whereas Clement Mathieu is a good man who will stand up for the boys when necessary.
The music is amazing 'La nuit' being my absolute favourite. The soundtrack is also available at amazon for £14.99.
The film is directed by Christophe Barratier, who seems to be relative newcomer to directing and I feel he captured the required atmosphere beautifully, the story was handled with a great deal of sensitivity. Gerard Jugnot plays Clemant Mathieu and is perfectly cast, looking like an aging music teacher should, which I have to say doesn't bode well for my future (I'm a piano teacher!) The only thing I recognise that he has done was a French voice over for the magic roundabout and a waiter in Herbie goes to Monte Carlo in 1977, having said that he has a huge cinematic listing and is apparently very well known in France.
The DVD has the usual 'making of the film' extras which I usually avoid but did find this one very interesting. It was good to see the boys in their normal clothes which made the fantastic voices all the more poignant. They were all delighted to be working with all the adult actors, who are all well known in France but I have heard of none of them. They also showed how they created some of the atmosphere, the film opens in the middle of winter and to create this illusion they had to remove every scrap of green, so pull all the leaves off the ivy, without killing the plant, to make it look like winter. I believed completely the first time I watched it, but having seen this it did look too warm the second time around.
This is a French film, produced in French, and although my French is ok, I still used the English subtitles as I didn't want to miss any subtleties through lack of understanding. As it was, and as is perfectly usual in this situation, many of the subtleties are missed in the translation anyway, but I didn't have any trouble understanding it.
So do I recommend this film, well it is certainly not for everybody, it is in French, with choir boys in it, and if you are after an all Hollywood action film, its not for you. But if you fancy spending a couple of hours watching an ok story (lets face it teacher saves a class of disturbed school kids has been done, many times over) but the music in it is truly beautiful, the way it all comes together the fact that not all the boys can sing gives it a sense of realism, one of them is even given the job of music stand! it has a charm and gentleness that contrasts with the grit of the subject matter and the ending is not as you would expect. Then give it a try. It is available at amazon for £13.20, and is available to rent.
Thank you for reading.
The movie starts with a brief prologue, where we see a renowned classical conductor on a journey to attend his mother's funeral. We then move into the past, into his childhood, the school where he was brought up, and we also see where his passion for music has come from.
The main part of the movie then starts with a middle-aged teaching assistant, Clement Mathieu (played by Gerard Jugnot) arriving at a school to start a new job. The date is 1949, and the school is the Fond d-Etang school for delinquent boys - supposedly the worst kind of unreformable delinquents - the name of the school translates as 'Bottom of the pond' or 'Rock Bottom', so that says it all.
Clement is taken aback by some of the methods used to discipline them. This is down to the principal a harsh man called Rachin (played by Francois Breleand). He is an excellent villain - his philosophy is fairly simple - "action - reaction" - which means instant, and usually very harsh, punishments all round for the boys.
Clement loves music, and has even composed some pieces, and he feels the boys will benefit from some musical appreciation, so he starts a school choir - much of this in secret from the principal who doesn't see the point, or that it's rewarding boys who don't deserve to be rewarded. Initially the boys tease Clement about his sheets of musical notation, and they make up insulting songs about him. Well, actually, a song about his bald head - they're clearly not such bad boys after all, or maybe delinquent boys just lived rather more sheltered lives in those days. Mathieu obviously regards himself as a musical failure, his diary, includes this entry "I swore I'd never take up music again. Never say never. Something's always worth trying."
Directed by Christophe Barratier, who also wrote the screenplay with Philippe Lopes-Curval. It's a remake/adaptation of a very obscure French film, from the 1940s, "La cage aux rossignols" (The cage of nightingales - possibly a more memorable and meaningful title?). It's Barratier's first movie.
In some ways it has a Hollywood feel, rather than a French feel. You know, theres a proper story to it, a beginning an end, and the prologue/epilogue structure is a very familiar device as well. Theres an element of predictability to the tale, in many ways, but thats not always a bad thing. There are definite echoes of Goodbye Mr Chips and Mr Hollands Opus, but there are probably no new stories anymore are there?
At times, despite the obvious French film tag, it feels like we're being fed Hollywood fare, and much of it is formulaic, and clearly designed to pull on our heart-strings pretty much throughout. There isn't really anything original about "The Chorus". But, having said that there are some very touching, human, moments.
The star performers are 2 of the boys, who are captivating to watch: Jean-Baptiste Maunier (Pierre, the angel-faced, talented pupil) and Maxence Perrin (Pepinot, the little boy lost).
Incidentally, the boys dont really come across as very delinquent, or unteachable but thats often the case with this style of movie the kids always seem to be easily won over!
The Choir received Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Song - "Look to Your Path (Vois Sur Ton Chemin)"; Bruno Coulais (music), Christophe Barratier (lyrics)
There are some very good musical moments, and its definitely a movie to recommend for musical types I dont mean people who like musicals, necessarily but people who like music. Choir music especially.
The score, from Bruno Coulais, is excellent, and the piece Vois sur ton chemin was nominated for an Oscar. The choirs soloist, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, who really does all his own singing, was discovered as a result of this movie, and hes now a household name in France.
For those who are interested in film locations, the medieval Chateau Ravel was used for filming - it was already a tourist attraction but no doubt the connection to this film will have made it all the more so.
the movie is subtitled.
Original title - "Les Choiristes"
96 minutes long
The DVD includes an interview with the director, and a making-of documentary. There are also featurettes.
It is available for £13.49 (bensonsworld) or £13.99 (CDWOW)
By getting nominated for Academy Awards in both the Foreign Language Film and Best Song categories, Les Choristes (The Chorus) made a rare (for a European film) double impression at the 2004 Oscars. This sentimental tale follows the arrival of a new teacher at a remote boys school in 1949 France (the war is a largely unspoken but ghostly presence). With disciplinary problems rampant, and the policies of the old-fashioned headmaster not helping, Monsieur Mathieu decides to introduce choral singing as a way to bridge the gap with his students. You don't need a crystal ball to figure out where this will go, although the movie uses its atmospheric location and lush vocal arrangements well. Bald, dumpy Gerard Jugnot provides a refreshingly offbeat hero: he's sort of a younger Philippe Noiret. Director Christophe Barratier works in the winsome-cute mode that makes a certain kind of French movie into an overly sweet bon bon, although at least this bon bon sings. --Robert Horton, Amazon.com