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:: Les Choristes (The Choir)

Les Choristes (The Choir) is adapted from a lesser-known French film from 1945, Le Cage Aux Rossignols (A Cage of Nightingales). Christophe Barratier has stayed true to the basic plot, characters and period of the original, but changed the emphasis from the adult world to the bittersweetness of childhood.

Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) has long since given up on his own dreams of being a great composer and resigned himself to life as a music teacher. In 1949, he is sent to a boarding school for troubled boys. Some are orphans, while others have been expelled from better schools due to learning and behavioural problems. Principal Rachin runs the institution like a prison camp, where students are a hostile enemy. He enforces his motto “Action! Reaction!” with severe beatings and cruel punishments and expects his staff to do the same. Despite a very reasonable fear of Rachin, Clément cannot bring himself to hurt a child. Instead, he reaches out to them with music, and changes their lives forever.

The basic premise of Les Choristes is admittedly nothing new. A new teacher wins over unruly pupils with passion and dedication. It has echoes of every ‘mentor’ film ever made, including Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dead Poet’s Society, To Sir With Love, Dangerous Minds, even Mona Lisa Smile. However, the students in this film are much younger, not so much delinquents as they are just ordinary boisterous kids.

The filmmakers avoided using professional actors and singers for most of the children and the character Pepinot (Maxence Perrin) is played by the producer’s own son. Only thirteen-year-old Jean Baptiste Maunier, who plays the lead role of Pierre Morhange, had sung professionally. He has a classic soprano voice and angelic charm that more than compensates for his lack of acting experience. To fill the rest of the cast they auditioned boys from schools all over France and the result is very natural.

Though a remake, Les Choristes is a beautiful film in its own right, with genuine sympathy for the unloved children as the innocent victims in the story. Clément Mathieu gives them a future by teaching them music but more than this, he restores their right to a childhood.