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The Chorus (Les Choristes)

Genre: Drama
Rated:
PG-13
Directed by
: CHRISTOPHE BARRATIER
Written by:
Christophe Barratier and Philippe Lopes-Curval
Starring: GERARD JUGNOT, FRANCOIS BERLEAND, JEAN-BAPTISTE MAUNIER
Released by: Miramax Pictures

In Short: Although formulaic, this good-natured work is cozy, sweet, the tiniest bit manipulative and a real crowd-pleaser.

French Box Office Hit Charms in the U.S.
A Bit Hollywood but Cozy and Sweet
By Andrew Bender

It’s 1949, and post-war France is deeply scarred, apparently nowhere more so than at a boarding school for “difficult” boys – the school’s even called “Fond de l’Etang” (“Rock Bottom”). Principal Rachin (François Berléand) seems to have learned discipline techniques from France’s Nazi occupiers, leaving the boys downtrodden and rebellious. Fond de l’Etang is a hell of paper airplanes, spitballs and dashed hopes.

In comes a new instructor, Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot), bringing a quality the school seems to have never known: mercy. In a place where “Silence!” is the most used command, he tames the boys through the opposite of silence, music.

It sounds familiar, and we’re not going to tell you that it isn’t. There’s the usual assortment of ragamuffins: the impossibly cute orphan, the brooding, handsome loner who turns out to have a golden throat, the tough kid who can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Naturally, the boys’ situation improves through music (starting at Rock Bottom, you can only go up, right?). They develop a détente with Monsieur Mathieu, and the principal unravels over their success. Familiar it may be, but it’s all so good-natured that it’s hard to quibble.

“The Chorus” has been a sensation in its home country, making a star of 14-year-old Jean-Baptiste Maunier (who plays the brooder – he’s an actual choirboy in real life) and of Bruno Coulais, who won a European Film Award for composing the film’s music, which fairly soars.

American filmgoers may appreciate "The Chorus," because the storytelling is so darn accessible, almost – gasp! – Hollywood. Think “Dead Poets Society” meets “The Music Man,” if the music man had a French accent. Unlike other French filmmakers, director Christophe Barratier and company have no fear of the formulaic, and with this film, at least, they’ve brought French audiences along with them.


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