out of Five
Running time: 95
In French with English subtitles
Delightful, uplifting, beautifully acted film that fully deserved its Oscar nominations for both Best Foreign Film and Best Original Song.
Christophe Barratier’s The Chorus (Les Choristes) was an unexpectedly huge hit in France, to the point where it has reportedly reawakened a national interest in boys’ choirs. It’s doubtful that its influence on British audiences will be quite so profound, but it’s a hugely enjoyable film that plays like Le Societe de les Poets Morts meets L’Opus de Monsieur Holland.
The film was deservedly nominated for two Oscars (for Best Foreign Film and Best Original Song) and although it lost out on both awards, it did at least provide le grande spectacle of Beyoncé Knowles singing the main song at the Oscars, in French. Ooh, and indeed, la la.
Based on an obscure 1945 French film, La Cage Aux Rossignols (A Cage of Nightingales), The Chorus is predominantly set in 1949. However, the film begins in the present day when a famous conductor, Pierre (Jacques Perrin) is visited by an old schoolmate, Pepinot (Didier Flamand) and together they relive the arrival at their reform school of new teacher Clement Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot).
The young Pierre (Jean-Baptiste Maunier) is always in trouble, not least from the stern headmaster, Monsieur Rachin (Francois Berléand) and Mathieu takes him under his wing, particularly when he starts a choir for the boys and discovers that Pierre has a heavenly singing voice.
Jugnot shines as Mathieu, despite (or perhaps because of) his occasional resemblance to Mikhail Gorbachev. His scenes with the children (particularly the young Pierre and Pepinot) are extremely moving, as is his unrequited crush on Pierre’s attractive mother (Marie Bunel). The scene where he learns that she is in love with someone else is heart-breaking.
There is also excellent support from the rest of the cast, from Berléand’s performance as the sadistic head to Gregory Gatignol as the school thug and Jean-Paul Bonnire as the kindly old school caretaker.
However, the stand-out performance belongs to Jean-Baptiste Maunier, who really does have -as the script says- the face and voice of an angel. Maunier was allegedly plucked from a choir group having never acted before and has now become something of a sensation in France.
The Chorus conforms neatly to the Dead Poets Society template, even down to the O Capitain, mon Capitain scene. This is no bad thing, however. The film is extremely well made and enhanced by an intelligent, witty script. Beautifully filmed by Carlo Varini with realistically austere sets, it benefits greatly from its use of original music, written for the film by Barratier and composer Bruno Coulais.
In short, if you’re looking for a feel-good arthouse flick then The Chorus is the perfect film to while away the winter blues. Highly recommended.