Dec 26, 2012

Les Choristes, 2004 (The Chorus)

Les Choristes, 2004 (The Chorus)
Director: Christopher Barratier
Cast: Gerard Jugnot, Francois Berleand, Jean Baptiste Maunier

Stage: my own TV selection on a Christmas evening

Les Choristes in short: Fond de l'Etang is a boarding school for troubled boys located in the French countryside. In the mid-twentieth century, it is run by the principal M. Rachin, an egotistical disciplinarian whose official unofficial mantra for the school is "action - reaction", meaning that there will be severe consequences for any boy out of line. This approach does not seem to be working as the boys as a collective are an unruly bunch. In turn, the teachers don't teach, but are always watching out for the next subversive act from the boys. January 15, 1949 marks the arrival to the school of the new supervisor, M. Clément Mathieu, a middle-aged man who is grasping at finding his place in life after a series of failed endeavors. Although he does find the boys an unruly lot, Mathieu does not believe in the "action - reaction" policy, and as such, butts heads with Rachin while secretly undermining the policy.

Preps: I have just seen the introduction and I am impressed by the IMDB review rating. Therefore I am curious. I have missed this piece at LIFFE, obviously. Therefore I am even more curious.

Reality: The movie is a blast. Virtually takes you from the beginning to the end in the melancholic tone you don't want to absorb at the beginning. It will make you sad to see what kind of environment once boarding school were. Somehow it resembles the Oliver Twist story, hence it is made to make you sad at first and then see what miracles can happen with the right approach.
The movie praises discipline as the only virtue that was important in that time. With boarding schools, you can almost taste misery that ruled in those premises. Boys that ended there were either taken from their parents because they couldn't support them or were juvenile criminals. However, they were all treated the same - as criminals that need to have a tight rope around their necks. Which to an observer of the movie isn't easy to accept, but you can then dwell upon this feeling because you get familiar with all kinds of torture methods that the principle is using when interacting with boys.

On the other side, you can see the teacher perspective and what does it take to change things that are "the way they used to be", or maybe "action-reaction" idea, which blows my mind with anger, once I hear about it thousands of times. It is hard to buy what this era is selling, but it really seems very authentic.
With the choir, you see a totally different approach with kids' education. If they really were villains, it would mean they would also deny to participate in a music project, such as choir. Their teacher brings out the best out of anyone, for this matter, they need to learn how to participate, choir has always been a joint effort, where there's no place for egoism.

The story can break your heart because of its cruelty towards children. The director made sure we don't doubt it and that your mind freezes if you only imagine being thrown in an institution like that. On the other hand, you need to be grateful for present time which doesn't allow such acts from the staff of the institution, neither from the children that still attend such facilities. A very solid drama, one of the better ones lately. It made me think that sometimes you are thrown in a situation where you cannot do anything to make it better. Was the principle the best man to fit the job? I doubt it. Was the teacher the best man to fit the children's needs? Most certainly. Do we always work where our potential shows the most? Not likely. In present time we have the option to really change it. At that point of time they could only dream about that.

My personal rating: 8,0 (brilliant drama that broke my heart on several places).

Les choristes on IMDB

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