A title nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2005 Academy Awards may also be a candidate for a compilation of best movies featuring "teachers-who-made-a-difference." The Chorus is the English subtitled version of Les Choistes, which took France by storm last year. It became one of the most popular films ever made in that country, with some reports claiming it even gave Shrek 2 a run for its money at the box office.
Can it achieve a similar love affair with American audiences who are notoriously reluctant to attend a movie they have to "read?" The enthusiastic applause at the end of the screening I attended in Western Canada (where few French speaking people live) seemed to indicate general approval, even if many critics have labeled the story contrived and sentimental.
Set in 1948 France, an unemployed music professor, Cl0xE9ment Mathieu (G0xE9rard Jugnot), arrives at a dilapidated boarding school full of boys from difficult situations. The institution is run under the heavy-handed direction of principal Rachin (Francois Berl0xE9and), a man whose actions indicate he'd rather deal with situations using hard and fast rules, than be bothered with the time consuming process of applying common sense. Most of the pupils-perhaps best described as inmates-are orphaned, born to unwed mothers, or have made too many bad decisions to continue life in a normal manner.
Beginning his tenure as a supervisor (or what we would call a teacher), Cl0xE9ment is soon up to his treble clef in trouble. Although not hired to teach music, the overwhelmed former composer isn't getting anywhere with the regular curriculum, so he begins to organize a choir hoping it may bring some sort of order to the chaos.
Amazingly fast (one of the movie's flaws), the strange mix of personalities begins to march to a different tune. From little P0xE9pinot (Maxence Perrin), who is so shy he seems incapable of functioning anywhere outside of the school's strict confines, to Pierre Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Marnier), whose beautiful voice is a direct foil to his rebellious nature; the boys begin to sing-and even sound impressive.
Ironically, only two people in the school resist the magic of music. Mondain (Gr0xE9gory Gatignol), the newest student with the hardest heart and longest criminal record, and Rachin, who continues to feels the activity is frivolous.
This fictional story is set up for a certain crescendo. After all, this educational facility was in such bad shape a whistling teakettle would have been inspiring, let alone a boys choir whose melody resonates off the stonewalls in beautiful fashion. (It also provides a gorgeous soundtrack for this film.)
Parents interested in taking children to see this mix of To Sir, With Love and Mr. Holland's Opus, should keep a couple of things in mind. First, remember the movie is in French with English subtitles, making it difficult viewing for children too young to read. This may be good, as the story contains portrayals of some tough kids. Mondain, for instance, is accused of sexually perverted behavior. When asked to perform, his lyrics live up to his reputation. Later, a crude anatomical term is repeatedly used in another verse, and mild to moderate profanities are scattered throughout.
While the language (in both senses of the term) is sure to be the greatest barrier, adults and older teens may still find The Chorus worthy to be an entry on their list of Best Teacher Movies.