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"The Chrous (Les Choristes)"|
(In subtitled French)
97 minutes | Rated: PG-13
LA: Friday, December 22, 2004
NY/LA: Friday, January 14, 2005
LIMITED: Friday, January 28, 2005
Directed by Christophe Barratier, Gerard Jugnot, Francois Berleand, Kad Merad, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marie Bunel, Jacques Perrin, Carole Weiss, Maxence Perrin
Another cuddly Oscar-bait import from Miramax, 'The Chorus' has contageous charm but zero depth
Once upon a time, the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film actually went to great works of art, such as Jacques Tati's "Mon Oncle," Federico Fellini's "8 1/2," Luis Bunuel's "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night," Akira Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" and Ingmar Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander" -- all uncompromised visions of brilliant filmmakers.
At some point in the recent past, these classics became replaced by cuddly, feel-good movies that more or less resemble American films, except for those burdensome subtitles. Miramax spearheaded this movement toward nice and safe experiences, and they're still making big bucks from the idea today.
According to the insipid Academy rules, each country may only submit one film for Oscar consideration in the Foreign Language Film category. Instead of Jean-Luc Godard's great new film "Notre Musique," France submitted Christophe Barratier's silly little "Les Choristes" (renamed "The Chorus" for U.S. consumption). Not surprisingly, it has been nominated, and I'll be even less surprised if it wins.
Kicking off in the present day, a successful orchestra conductor (Jacques Perrin) revisits his past, spent at an orphanage. Young Pierre (Jean-Baptiste Maunier) is a good-looking, towheaded troublemaker until a kindly music teacher (Gérard Jugnot) turns up and begins a choral program, which of course, brings all the kids out of their shells and keeps them out of trouble.
The movie dips into the cinematic past for its inspiration, but stays far away from real life. We have bits of "The 400 Blows" and "Mr. Holland's Opus," plus any number of teacher films ("Stand and Deliver," "Dangerous Minds," etc.). Then we have the school's director (Franois Berléand), a one-dimensional villain straight out of "B" Westerns, and the teacher's empty, pining romance toward Pierre's lovely mother (Marie Bunel), which only distracts from the story.
Yet Miramax's highly successful formula has something soothing about it. The children's singing, as it gets immeasurably and improbably better throughout the film, soars and tingles like honey on wings. Old doughy Jugnot has a kindly face and eyes, and when he smiles at the kids, it's hard not to feel his warmth.
Alas, I'm only human, and I succumbed to this film's charms just like anyone would, but I mourn for the lack of recognition for truly great films. And I certainly would not miss films like "Les Choristes" and their ilk if they were to disappear forever.