A few years ago, the Philippines submitted a truly awful film as its choice in the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards. Small Voices was about a teacher who brought inspiration to a group if young, rowdy children by having them sing in a choir. It was truly annoying how the filmmakers tried to inject as much false emotion into the film as possible in order to make people in the audience cry and feel uplifted. Now comes Les Choristes, a film from France that is essentially the same film. On the whole, French films tend to be better than Filipino ones (these are usually over-acted), and this one did manage to get nominated (although it lost to Spain's The Sea Inside, a much superior film). This time, the teacher, Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot, The Car Keys, The Race) arrives at The Fond De L'Etang, a small school out in the countryside for troubled boys.
His initial reaction is that of pandemonium. The rowdy boys run amok, and Rachin (Francois Berleand, The Code, The Transporter) is a strict disciplinarian who goes by the rule of "Action - Reaction." This means a lot of punishment and festering resentment from the children. Mathieu sees things differently. He wants to foster a sense of community and trust amongst the boys, which sets him at odds with Rachin. Mathieu is a failed composer, and swindles Rachin into allowing him to form a choir. This gives the boys something to do, and allows him to develop a gentler relationship with them then teacher/student. One of his students, Pierre Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Maunier) has an angelic voice, and within a few months, the general mood at the school is better, there are few discipline problems, and the choir so great it has to be a movie.
Christopher Barratier (Les Tombales) directed and co-wrote the story with Philippe Lopes-Curval (Monsieur Batignole, Blue Helment). It's not a bad story, it's just overly familiar. And to eke out as much sentimentality as possible, the duo goes for the gut. One student (Maxence Perrin) waits every Saturday by the gates for parents who will never arrive. Mathieu develops a crush on Morhange's mother (Marie Bunel, Family Pack, My Life in Pink), other children have problems of varying degrees, and so on and so forth. The story is an extended flashback, where two former students look back fondly upon the teacher that inspired them. Every attempt to milk tears out of the audience is blatant, and it is this feeling of calculation that works against the film. The fact that they don't sound decent but amazing also works against an already strained believability in Les Choristes.
The film also focuses primarily on Morhange. It mentions a few other kids, but for the most part, they disappear into a sea of mop tops with good voices. And while the premise is nice in a heart-tugging way, it is a bit too simplistic . These kids looks really out of control. It's hard to believe that a slightly rotund, balding man who wants to start a choir will get them into line. It's even harder believing that a bunch of young boys will want to sing. A few, yes. The entire class? No. But hey, that's probably the point of the film.
|Haro Rates It: Okay.|
|1 hour, 35 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for some language/sexual references.|
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