Les Choristes (France/Switzerland, director Christophe Barratier): Les Choristes is an unabashedly sentimental film that reminded me very much of Italian films Ciao Professore! and especially Cinema Paradiso. It tells the story of a failed musician named Clement Mathieu who finds himself taking a job in desperation as the supervisor of a reform school in 1949. The school is run by an authoritarian tyrant and the students are a bunch of delinquents who taunt him immediately with shouts of “Baldie!” and “Bullet Head!”. Mathieu decides to begin a choir as a sort of project to help with discipline and soon has the respect of the students. He also discovers a boy with a remarkable voice and does his best to encourage this gift while harbouring a crush on the boy’s mother. This is not totally original stuff, but the story is told well and the performances are strong, most especially by Gérard Jugnot as the rumpled and lonely Mathieu. The resemblances to Cinema Paradiso are quite strong. Both films use a flashback structure. In Cinema Paradiso, a famous film director is called home to his village to attend the funeral of his old mentor, the projectionist at the local cinema. In Les Choristes, it’s a famous orchestra conductor, called home to bury his mother, but the event triggers a visit from an old school chum who unfolds the tale of their music teacher Mathieu. The film is a “man behind the man” tribute to those quiet souls who push others to greatness while often not feeling very successful in their own lives. As someone who studied to be a teacher, I love this kind of story, even if it is not always fashionable in “serious” cinema circles. The emotions are real and are helped tremendously by a fabulous musical score and beautiful choral pieces.
The director was proud to be presenting the film in Toronto after its huge success in France, where it sold eight million tickets and a million copies of its soundtrack CD. We were also treated to a performance after the screening of two of the songs from the film by another boy’s choir, and the standing ovation was almost inevitable.
Film’s Web Site: www.leschoristes-lefilm.com