Sing-a-long boys school

“Les Choristes” chants a familiar message about the power of teachers

Claire Joseph

Troubled children are always good at singing.

“The Chorus,” directed by Christophe Barratier, maintains the stereotypical, heartwarming idea that all children can be saved and that teachers are the key to their success.

The film takes place in 1949 in a dingy, run-down French boarding school where the administrators are disciplining troubled students with the concept of “action-reaction.” This means the children get punished with excessive, physically demanding labor every time they mess up.

When Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) arrives at the school as the new supervisor, he is astonished by the severity of the punishments. He tries to find a different way to get the students’ attention.

Soon, the boys discover the sheet music Mathieu, a former music teacher, has been writing and hiding in his bedroom.

And so begins the all-boys choir at the Fond-de-L’etang (Rock Bottom) School. Mathieu uses music to reach the troubled adolescents.

Following closely the plot ideas of “Sister Act,” “School of Rock” and “Dangerous Minds,” Mathieu uses music to spark interest in the otherwise unresponsive boys.

In fact, the only significant difference between the plot in “The Chorus” and that of the movies above is that unless you speak French, you have to read the subtitles to understand the dialogue.

Although the cliche that one caring teacher can single-handedly change the life of his underprivileged students is commonplace, there must be something in this notion that keeps people coming back for more.

Maybe it’s every child’s hope that teachers will see something unique in them when it seems as if nobody else does. Maybe teachers who seem to understand will always hold a special place in children’s hearts, no matter how old they become. Or maybe everyone shares a secret fantasy to become a famous rock star or choral singer.

Never in the movies does a teacher take some children under his or her wing and try to use music to unite them only to discover that they just can’t sing. If a music teacher tried to create a choir out of a random group of students in most classes at, say, the University, he or she’d probably be sorely disappointed.

The choir in “The Chorus,” however, is so good that the film has picked up an Oscar nomination for best original song. The song, “Look to your Path” (“Vois sur ton Chemin”), sounds good in French, but in English, it boasts pedestrian lines referring to the “wave of hope” and the “path of glory” that can rescue “forgotten kids.”

“The Chorus” has also picked up an Oscar nomination for best foreign film, and, if the Oscar judges, like many viewers, share a soft spot for a favorite teacher or a fantasy of becoming the next Clay Aiken, the film might just win.