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With: Gerard Jugnot, Francois Berleand, Kad Merad, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marie Bunel, Jacques Perrin, Carole Weiss, Maxence Perrin
Written by: Christophe Barratier, Philippe Lopes-Curval
Directed by: Christophe Barratier
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language/sexual references and violence
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 97
Date: 03/17/2004

The Chorus (Les Choristes) (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sing for the Moment

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Once upon a time, the Oscar for Best Foreign Language filmactually went to great works of art, such as Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle, Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of theBourgeoisie, Francois Truffaut's Dayfor Night, Akira Kurosawa's DersuUzala and Ingmar Bergman's Fannyand Alexander -- all uncompromised visionsof brilliant filmmakers.

At some point, these classics have begun to be replaced by cuddly, feel-good films that more or less resemble American films, except for those burdensome subtitles. Miramax spearheaded this movement toward nice and safe experiences, and they're still making big bucks from the idea today.

According to the insipid Academy rules, each country may only submit one film for Oscar consideration in the Foreign Language Film category. Instead of Jean-Luc Godard's great new film Notre Musique, France submitted Christophe Barratier's silly little Les Choristes (renamed The Chorus for U.S. consumption). Not surprisingly, it has been nominated, and I'll be even less surprised if it wins.

Kicking off in the present day, a successful orchestra conductor (Jacques Perrin) revisits his past, spent at an orphanage. Young Pierre (Jean-Baptiste Maunier) is a good-looking towheaded troublemaker until a kindly music teacher, Cl�ment Mathieu (G�rard Jugnot) turns up and begins a music program, which of course, brings the kids out of their shells and keeps them out of trouble.

The movie dips into cinema past for its inspiration, but stays far away from real life. We have bits of The 400 Blows and Mr. Holland's Opus, plus any number of teacher films (Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, etc.). Then we have the school's director (Fran�ois Berl�and), a one-dimensional villain straight out of "B" Westerns, and the teacher's empty, pining romance toward Pierre's lovely mother (Marie Bunel), which only distracts from the story.

Yet Miramax's highly successful formula has something soothing about it. The children's singing, as it gets immeasurably and improbably better throughout the film, soars and tingles like honey on wings. Old doughy Mathieu has a kindly face and eyes, and when he smiles at the kids, it's hard not to feel his warmth.

Alas, I'm only human, and I succumbed to this film's charms just like anyone would, but I mourn for the lack of recognition for truly great films. And I certainly would not miss films like Les Choristes and their ilk if they were to disappear forever.

DVD Details: Miramax's new DVD is mastered in 2.40:1 widescreen with 5.1 sound. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish, but there are no other extras.

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