Fond de l'Etang is a boarding school for troubled boys located in the French countryside. In the mid-twentieth century, it is run by the principal M. Rachin, an egotistical disciplinarian whose official unofficial mantra for the school is "action - reaction", meaning that there will be severe consequences for any boy out of line. This approach does not seem to be working as the boys as a collective are an unruly bunch. In turn, the teachers don't teach, but are always watching out for the next subversive act from the boys. January 15, 1949 marks the arrival to the school of the new supervisor, M. Clément Mathieu, a middle-aged man who is grasping at finding his place in life after a series of failed endeavors. Although he does find the boys an unruly lot, Mathieu does not believe in the "action - reaction" policy, and as such, butts heads with Rachin while secretly undermining the policy. Slowly, Mathieu's approach of trying to match the discipline to the crime does have a positive ... Written by
Taking France by storm this summer, Les choristes purportedly led to a surge in applications to join choirs all over the country. The magic is unquestionably in the music, but I'll come to that later.
The success of Les choristes as a film (with or without the divine music) lies in its not trying to be anything more than what it is, a simple tale that opens up to you instead of manipulating you. You'll find neither heart-breaking poignancy nor rousing heroism. Within the short duration of a school term or two he spent with the somewhat notorious boarding school, teacher and musician Clement Mathieu had his modest ambition fulfilled, of having a choir sing the music he wrote, then moved along to a continuously modest life of teaching and music. Talented protégé Pierre Morhange did achieve fame and success, but we have essentially been spared laboured scenes of Titanic struggles or exuberant jubilation. To ensure that I'm not misleading towards the other extreme, let me hasten to add that Les choristes does touch our hearts. It does this gently, sensibly.
But in the end, it's the music. Purely the celestial beauty of the music alone will brings tears to the appreciative audiences' eyes. The story is touching. The character are likable. But the ultimate magic is the choir and boy soprano Jean-Baptiste Maunier chosen from two thousand auditions. Such a magical choice.
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