Monday, December 11, 2006

Les Choristes

2004, France, directed by Christophe Barratier

Rating: **

Les Choristes is an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser, re-using an especially well-worn cinematic chestnut, that of the inspirational teacher. Perhaps school remains a place of negative memories for many people, because the plotline seems to appeal generation after generation, in many different guises (some of them pretty good). On this occasion, though, there's a little too much tugging at the heart-strings and an excess of angelic moppets, while the action is so schematic that the screenwriting devices creak. The film is a remake of an 1945 feature, and the symbolism of the caged birds was probably the more powerful then; here, the analogy to the Resistance is spelled out rather clumsily, while it's not clear why the action has been moved to 1949. On the plus side, the film is a great showcase for Gérard Jugnot, who delivers a nice performance that helps to counter-balance some of the scripted mawkishness. Jugnot is a major star in France, who has worked most often in a broad comic register (he's especially funny in the anarchic films he made with his Splendid theatre buddies, such as Les Bronzés and the Le Père Noël est une ordure) but he's completely convincing here as the quietly insistent schoolteacher, and elevates the film several notches.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States