The Chorus

The Chorus


Reviewed by: Symon Parsons

How do words like "sentimental" and "heart warming" strike you? Do stories of children coming to learn Life Lessons from kindly, yet unorthodox, teachers fill you with dread? In short, do you suffer from a condition known as robinwilliamsaphobia (Cinematus Insipidus)?

Such people need to avoid The Chorus. In fact, you should step away from this review. Now.

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Set in 1949, this remake of La Cage Aux Rossignols tells the story of Clement Mathieu (played by comic actor Gerard Jugnot), a failed musician who finds himself working at Le Fond D'Etang - translated as The Rock Bottom - a school for unruly children.

The school is run on strict discipline. "Action - Reaction!" barks tyrannical headmaster Rachin (Francois Berleand) and this is the unthinking mantra for all staff at his Les Diaboliques-style institution. Mathieu's predecessor explains that the work is to provide the most perfunctory of education, while avoiding serious injury at the hands of the inmates. Pupils are beaten, bullied and isolated into obedience and suicides are common.

Of course, Mathieu doesn't accept this. On witnessing Rachin's brutal methods, he attempts to win over his class with kindness and understanding and when they mock him with song, he harnesses their enthusiasm by starting a choir. Of special interest to Mathieu is Pierre Morhange, a boy with the voice of an angel.

Can Mathieu save his soul, too?

That's never in doubt. Any dramatic suspense is squandered by the film being told in flashback by adult Morhange. However, despite the predictability of the outcome and the extremely manipulative story, The Chorus is still hugely enjoyable.

What sets it apart from equally heart-warming and sentimental offerings are some fine performances, notably from Jugnot, as a man torn between crusading zeal and crippling self-doubt. His first appearance at school assembly, where his attempts to establish authority are undermined by an inability to know what to do with his hands, is so endearingly done you can't help but warm to him. It's arguably down to Jugnot alone that this film never threatens to turn into Le Patch Adams.

Then there's the music, which truly distinguishes it from Mr. Holland's Dangerous Minded Dead Poets. It soars and takes the film with it, and even if its inspirational qualities never quite explain the magical transformation of the kids from Satanic Sid Viciouses into Angelic Aled Joneses, I doubt that the audience will really care.

Co-writer/director Christophe Barratier knows his material and plays to the audience, not the critics. He's undoubtedly aware of the familiarity of the subject and the potentially cloying nature of the tale, so moves things briskly along from one highlight to another. It all climaxes with an Au Revoir Monsieur Frites conclusion that will leave all but the most hard-hearted with a lump in their collective throats. Discerning viewers may feel manipulated, but I would urge you to swallow your pride and enjoy a shameless slice of sentiment.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2005
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A French music teacher brings new meaning to the lives of his troubled charges.
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Read more The Chorus reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****
Paul Griffiths ***

Director: Christophe Barratier

Writer: Christophe Barratier, Philippe Lopes-Curval

Starring: Gerard Jugnot, François Berleand, Kad Merad, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marie Bunel, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Maxence Perrin

Year: 2004

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France/Switzerland/Germany


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