First-time French director Christophe Baratier's new film is "The Chorus". Baratier was the producer of two of the most visually sumptuous films in recent memory, "Winged Migration" (2001) and "Himalaya" (1999). In addition to directing, he co-wrote and composed some of the original music for "The Chorus". In an interview with Movie Magazine Baratier says that "The Chorus" is autobiographical, and that the smallest, most sensitive boy we see first, standing at the front gate of the boys' school, represents him as a child.
"The Chorus" is wildly popular in Europe and has received Oscar nominations for Foreign Language Film and Original Song.
The film starts in the present. A celebrated symphony conductor's mother dies and he receives a visit from an old school mate. They reminisce about their school days and talk about their loved teacher, Clement Mathiue (Gerard Jugonot). Gorgeously filmed in sunny France, "The Chorus" flashes back to the forties to an austere school for wayward boys with a name that translates in English to "the bottom of the pond."
The boys are either orphaned or their parents have given up on them. A new assistant, the good-natured, soft-spoken Clement Mathieu comes on the scene as the assistant after the boys drove out his predecessor. The boys also try to drive Mathieu away, because that's all they know how to do; they are really good at being really bad. Mathieu's quiet strength and fair-minded reactions to their behavior surprise the boys, but they continue to test his mettle. They defy Mathieu to reject them as every other adult has done.
Mathieu has to placate the unyielding director, Rachin (Francois Berleand), who is a cold and arbitrary disciplinarian. Rachin cares more about his image in the eyes of the board than the welfare of the boys.
Mathieu reacts to his challenges by paying more attention to the boys, and introducing them to his passion - music and singing. Singing together improves their behavior and gives them confidence and sense of purpose. They like cooperating with each other, feel competent at something other than creating chaos, and feel like they have a place in the sun.
The composition of "The Chorus" is balanced and harmonious. Baratier is a skilled storyteller with a gift for showing life realistically in all its tragedy and glory. He infuses the story with gentle, whimsical humor which lifts us and reveals life's ironies at the same time. The performances are extraordinary. Jugunot's Mathiue is nuanced and understated. The boys' performances are triumphant, the music is magnificent, and Pierre (Jean-Baptiste Maunier) sings like an angel.
"The Chorus" is about believing in children and the value of investing the time to teach and encourage them. It shows how one ordinary man, a teacher, can quietly change lives forever. In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 1/26/05