A French public servant from Provence is banished to the far North. Strongly prejudiced against this cold and inhospitable place, he leaves his family behind to relocate temporarily there, with the firm intent to quickly come back.
To amuse themselves at a weekly dinner, a few well-heeled folk each bring a dimwit along who is to talk about his pastime. Each member seeks to introduce a champion dumbbell. Pierre, an ... See full summary »
Vincent is about to become a father. At a meeting with childhood friends he announces the name for his future son. The scandalous name ignites a discussion which surfaces unpleasant matters from the past of the group.
Alexandre de La Patellière,
In 1942, in an occupied Paris, the apolitical grocer Edmond Batignole lives with his wife and daughter in a small apartment in the building of his grocery. When his future son-in-law and ... See full summary »
A man is charged with murder. He is Pigoil, the aging stage manager at Chansonia, a music hall in a Paris faubourg. His confession is a long flashback to New Year's Eve, 1935, when he ... See full summary »
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
The film was shot in the middle of summer which was hard for the cast to wear winter clothes since the scenes were supposed to be in winter (in January) . See more »
While Mathieu is auditioning more than thirty boys in his class to sort them by the pitches of their voices, discontinuities can be perceived in the relative positions of some of the boys. While Pépinot is walking to the left side of the frame after his audition, Boniface and one of the oldest boys can be seen standing together on the lowest step of the stairs in the center of the frame (at 33:43 to 33:45). The scene then cuts to a close-up of Mathieu calling out Boniface's name to sing next (at 33:46 to 33:48). Then the scene cuts to a medium shot of Boniface stepping off the stairs, but the older boy is not beside him (at around 48 mins). In a wider shot (at around 56 mins), the older boy is at the far right of the frame with the baritones and bases having had his audition "off-camera". See more »
[they've found the stolen money and a harmonica]
You know Mondain was expelled because they thought he'd stolen the money.
No, that's right you didn't. But now I've told you. So what were you going to do with this money?
If I tell you, do you promise not to tell anyone?
I was going to use it to buy...
To buy what?
My Montgolfier balloon.
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There's an air of romance surrounding wayward boys, particularly in the French tradition, where they tend to be poetic as well as mischievous. In "The Chorus," Christophe Barratier draws on this tradition and adds some lovely vocal sounds. "The Chorus" is about an "internat" or reform school where a new principal who writes music tames his young charges, some naughty, some just abandoned, by teaching them to sing in a boys' chorus. The school director, Rachin (sounds like Nurse Ratched), François Berléand (of Jacquot's "The School of Flesh"), is a prissy sadist who preaches a philosophy of instant punishment for all real or imagined wrongdoing ("action-reaction"); but when the new principal, Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) shows up with a soft approach to his classes and his supervisory duties, he finds allies among the faculty and staff.
"The Chorus" advances the frequently screened theory that delinquent kids are better charmed than chastened; that if you can find a positive activity they excel in, the misbehavior will die out.
Barratier has had good success with his young actors. The most important boy is the "tête d'ange" (head of an angel), tall, fair-haired Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Maunier), who's often in trouble and refuses to join the choir, till Mathieu catches him singing by himself and discovers his star soloist. Morhange's voice possesses not only a rich natural musicality but the haunting purity only boy sopranos have. Morhange has the most attractive mother, and Mathieu's success in encouraging the boy's singing makes the pudgy, bald man fantasize romance with her -- thus incidentally clearing himself of the suspicion of pedophilia that tends to haunt any all-boys school setting. Mathieu's romantic dream is futile, and he humbly fades away at the story's end, like some Gallic pied piper of boy soprano-dom.
"The Chorus" takes place in post-war France and its topic and look establish immediate links with a bevy of seminal French films. Wayward French boys turn up in boarding schools that are places of both repression and refuge, as you can see in Jean Vigo's school revolution in "Zero for Conduct" (1933). The beloved textbook of the French bad-boy tradition is Alain-Fournier's "Le Grand Meaulnes" (The Wanderer), which was notably filmed by Jean-Pierre Albicocco in 1967. The tradition becomes more autobiographical in Truffaut's 1959 400 Blows, which introduced the director's alter ego, Jean-Pierre Léaud; and in Malle's moving and long-contemplated memoir of a boarding school in wartime, "Au Revoir les Enfants" (1987). Jean Cocteau mythologized a bad-boy idol who haunted him all his life in the Dargélos of "Les Enfants Terribles" (1950), made into yet another classic film by Jean-Pierre Melville. This whole idea has remaining traces in the feral youth Gaspard Ulliel plays in André Téchiné's recent "Strayed." "The Chorus," it is true, is a relatively conventional entry; except for adding music, it rides upon, rather than transcends, the tradition. But it's a warm story with much charm and little pretension.
Barratier himself is a talented musician who, like Mathieu, has drifted into other things. A trained classical guitarist, he won several international competitions after studying at the prestigious École Normale de Musique in Paris, and played professionally for several years. But in 1991 he joined Galatée films to train under his uncle, the renowned actor, producer and writer Jacques Perrin -- who bookends "The Chorus" as a Morhange who has grown up into a famous classical conductor. For the next decade Barratier was an associate producer and collaborated with Perrin on "Children of Lumière," "Microcosmos," "Himalaya" and "Winged Migration." Now he has turned his hand to fiction and directed his own film, with success. There is a risk of preciosity and sweetness, mostly avoided by the dryness of both Mathieu and Rachin as characters, as well as the surviving wickedness of the boys, especially an arch bad-boy, Mondain (Grégory Gatignol). The point of view is Mathieu's and the mature Morhange's, so the film doesn't go as deep into the boys' psyches as it goes into their voice boxes.
The director is well connected. He's the son of film actress Eva Simonet and besides his uncle his grandparents were also theater people. The Chorus was top box office in France after its release in March 2004. The French critical reception was pretty mixed, and the film's been reviled by some in the United States as (in one writer's words) "unbelievably inane, saccharine, and derivative"; "all smooth, nutrient-free clichés." Even thumbs-up king Roger Ebert didn't like it: "this feels more like a Hollywood wannabe than a French film," he wrote. "Where's the quirkiness, the nuance, the deeper levels?" But it's really a cleanly made, simple, humanistic, and satisfying little film with far less pandering than its critics claim, and whether we like it or not, it's the French Best Foreign Oscar entry, and the little chorus is likely to perform " Vois sur ton chemin" on Awards night (if their voices haven't changed). The relatively minimal mise-en-scène and the period setting link it more with its classic film antecedents than with the overproduced "Very Long Engagement" (Jeunet's film's Oscar nominations are for décor and photography). Derivative and conventionally themed? Yes. Barratier has acknowledged "The Chorus's" inspiration in an earlier film, "La Cage aux Rossignols" (The Nightingales' Cage, 1945), which has the same premise -- and anyone can name a long list of movies about teachers who charm their wayward flock. None of them feels -- or sounds -- quite like this movie, though. And the boys do their own singing: the "tête d'ange" really has the "voix d'ange." American reviewers, missing the nuances, plug Les Choristes into "Mr. Holland's Opus" or "Dead Poets Society" and find it stereotypically schmaltzy. The gentler French critics don't see those crude comparisons and are able to call it "un beau film" and find in it a satisfying example of "cinéma populaire." We can too if we open up to it.
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