Foreign films are generally produced on small budgets. They also succeed in frequently telling great stories. Every year I watch for the five nominees for best foreign films from the Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards. Most of these five films prove to be rich in texture and character acting. This is the case with a lovely little 2004 French film called Les Choristes (The Chorus). Les Choristes is a post-World War II film of nostalgia, optimism and authenticity. This gentle drama, nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award, is from first-time French director Christophe Barratier. It features a music teacher named Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) who lands a job at a boys' boarding school populated by delinquents and orphans. The performance by leading actor Barratier is nuanced and very properly low-key. The school, run by a martinet headmaster (Francois Berleand), is a place for misfits and losers. Sensing potential in these rambunctious ruffians Mathieu forms a choir to rein in his charges through the transforming power of song. He knows his actions will likely end his career but he presses on courageously.
Clement Mathieu demonstrates some of the greatest virtues: love, patience and self-discipline. The boys initially attack him mocking his efforts and demeanor. He refuses to attack the boys back but applies large doses of tender love joined with justice when rightly needed. The result is radical change in most of the boys. The story is told from the perspective of two boys who are reunited many years after their time at the dreary boarding school. The opportunity to reflect on how their lives were changed by this one great teacher leads them to consider how powerful Mathieu’s influence really was in shaping their lives.
Les Choistes fits the category of American film like Mr. Holland’s Opus and Music of the Heart. It is simple, powerful and very fun film to watch. I recommend it to you if you like a great story and enjoy films that show the power of love in shaping children into productive and happy adults.