Film — The Chorus (PG-13)
The Chorus (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

A failed musician finds renewed interest in life for himself and his students when he starts a chorus at a French boys school in The Chorus, the French language movie that received an Oscar nomination for both film and music.

The Chorus is a love song for teachers who rise above mediocre or neglectful situations to inspire their thought-of-as-hopeless students. The story plays out exactly as such stories play out with the implication of elegance and deeper meaning that the French language lends a movie for American audiences. The story is sweet and beguiling — so beware those who believe the seal of Oscar implies a movie heavier than a marshmallow.

Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) is a doughy middle-aged man who has by his own admission failed at a few things before winding up at a boys’ school in 1949. He arrives and finds the boys — adorable moppets with troublemaking tendencies — under the oppressive thumb of Headmaster Rachin (Francois Berleand). Required by his stereotype to be a fatuous man seeking status and fearful of any innovation that shakes up the order of his school, Rachin is necessarily uneasy when he learns that Mathieu has arranged his students into a boys’ choir. Rather than treating them like criminals in the making, he treats them as baritones and altos — the tone-deaf boy even seems happy to act as a sheet music holder.

This method brings out better behavior — a lucky thing for the boys, who suffer draconian punishments for even the slightest infractions. From one boy in particular, Pierre (Jean-Baptist Maunier), the chorus brings out a hidden talent — an angelic voice and an instinctual understanding of music and its technical details. The voice, Clement believes, could be a way out of the boys’ institution for Pierre. It’s also a way for Clement to garner the attention and gratitude of Violette (Marie Bunel), Pierre’s very comely single mother.

The Chorus is full of the predictable elements and rhythm familiar to all teacher-as-inspiration movies and executes them with a sugary, if uninspired, charm. The movie doesn’t break new ground so much as cover it with baguettes and berets — the Dead French Poets Society, Monsieur Holland’s Opus. If the movie does have any standout features they’re in the soundtrack, which has the ethereal score created by the chorus.

- Amy Diaz

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