The Chorus | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Chorus

The Sound of Music



World-renowned conductor Pierre Morhange (Jacques Perrin, in an extended cameo) returns to his home in France, where he is visited by old schoolmate. The guest has brought a scrapbook -- photos and notes of the year they shared in boarding school under the tutelage of a benevolent choral instructor, M. Mathieu. The two men -- and we -- drift back to 1947 ...



It is still a gloomy time in post-war France, and it's an appropriately gray day when the plug-shaped Clement Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) arrives for his first day as instructor at a rural boarding school for troubled boys. Since the prologue has effectively foretold the narrative, we settle in for what we know will be a bumpy ride toward a happy ending.


The Chorus is another entry in the inspirational sub-genre wherein a tough-love teacher betters the lives of hard-case kids by involving them in a meaningful extra-curricular activity. In fact, director Christophe Barratier, who co-wrote the screenplay with Phillippe Lopes-Curval, was inspired not by any real-life scenario, but by an earlier French weepie about musical kids, 1947's La Cage aux Rossignols. As such, your ultimate enjoyment will be determined by your tolerance for such predictable and sentimental films.


Once ensconced in the rundown school, the film ambles along, introducing a few of the kids and establishing Mathieu as kind-hearted (he devises humane and educational punishments). There's little depth or narrative tension: We hang on while the last few lads reluctantly join the choir, and idly fret when the mean headmaster threatens to scuttle the whole project.


The kids turn out to be a decent lot (and are ably portrayed in that doe-eyed and knobby-kneed manner of European child actors). Mathieu's chief challenge is surmounting their standoffishness, and remarkably, a few pretty country melodies appear to work miracles. The pervasive holdout is the young Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Mainier), a winsome coltish lad with the sort of pure sweet voice that brings tears to the eyes of elderly women and sentimental drunks.


Barratier makes us wait for the music -- there will, of course, be a concert event -- so when it finally arrives, the anticipation is keen. The hooligans, standing neatly in their scruffy clothes, sing like God's own angels. You may find yourself filled with tearful joy at the indomitable human spirit presented here, and congratulate fantasy men like Mathieu who save children like these. Or you may recall half-a-dozen very similar films you've already seen. In the worst case, you may feel emotionally manipulated, and wonder whatever happens to the hard-assed kids in boarding schools who don't get picked for the uplifting choir. In French, with subtitles.