Les Choristes

January 20th, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed By Christophe Barratier

Starring Gerard Jugnot, Francois Berleand, Jean-Baptiste Maunier.

You have to watch out for association marketing in movies. Association marketing is the practice of trying to sell a movie by namedropping a much more successful (and usually far better) film, director or star.

On any straight to video film, the biggest warning sign is a tagline or distributor statement that says something like ‘Out pulps Pulp Fiction‘ or ‘Makes Aliens look like Care Bears’. A classic recent example is Irish crime drama Intermission. Not only did the distributors select a very quotable statement by a popular reviewer (‘the bastard child of Trainspotting and Love, Actually‘), the poster art for the film was disturbingly similar to Trainspotting. The film lived up to the success and acclaim of neither of its illegitimate parents.

Thankfully, Les Choristes isn’t shooting for the lofty heights of a cult audience, so you’re subjected to no such enforced preconceptions. But you’ll realise after seeing it where you’ve seen similar ideas before. If you absolutely have to describe it by comparing it to the tone or storyline of other movies, think of it as a cross between Dangerous Minds (itself an inner city rip off of Dead Poets Society) by way of Cinema Paradiso.

In the beginning we meet a man who appears to be a success as an orchestra conductor, visited by a friend from his childhood who brandishes a photo of them as young boys attending a school for wayward children and the gift of a diary, left to him by their teacher Mathieu.

As he starts to read, we’re transported back into the story with him. As a child, he was imprisoned under the tutelage of a cruel headmaster and a small band of staff that were more like Nazi stormtroopers than teachers. That is until Mathieu, the new supervisor, arrives.

Appalled at the state of discipline and the school ethos of cruel or violent punishment (‘action-reaction’) in response to any transgression, Mathieu tries his hardest to take the kids under his wing and make them grow, like Hollywood luminaries such as Robin Williams, Michelle Pfeiffer and Julia Roberts (Mona Lisa Smile) have done before him.

Mathieu (Jugnot) however, is completely believable and lovable as the mild mannered teacher with endless patience and a heart of gold. He never falters from being a perfect gentleman, even when falling in love with the mother of his favourite student, the angry but gifted Moranghe (Maunier).

So he brings his natural talent — music — into their lives, organising the boys into a choir and (not much of a surprise here) bringing them gradually into line while they flourish — something brutal discipline never has.

Several smaller subplots fill out what’s essentially a simple and certainly not a new idea, and without the requisite Hollywood glamour puss in a desperate bid for critical and awards recognition, Les Choristes has a charm shared by Paradiso and other stories like it where a connection is made across the generations in a quaint environment.

Neither the production nor the acting is Academy Award material, but if you like a French provincial flavour to your films, this will be a sweet addition to your viewing.

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