We went to see The Chorus last night with some trepidation. The UK critics had given it a luke warm reception, with mutterings about 'feel good movies'. In case you've missed the story Christophe Barratier's film (which was nominated for an Oscar) is a remake of an obscure 1945 film about an unemployed music teacher who becomes a supervisor in a boarding school for boys from troubled backgrounds. The music teacher, brilliantly played by Gerard Jugnot, changes the lives of the boys, and the school, by introducing them to choral singing.
Jean-Baptiste Maunier is now a huge star in France,
but what will his audience be in the UK and US?
This was the first week for the film in the UK. It was preceeded by trailers for mass market Hollywood trash - yet another Woody Allen movie of middle aged Americans acting out their mid-life crises with their heads up their rear ends, and a Kate Winslet epic of how the US will save the world from the terrors of the axis of evil. There were eight people in the cinema. The fact that, thankfully, The Chorus is being shown in French with sub-titles, will inevitably mean box office death in the UK and particularly the US.
All those who are put off by the 'feel good' reviews and French dialogue are missing a masterpiece of the cinema. Forget about it's post-war period setting and sub-titles, The Chorus is about contemporary and vitally important, but deeply unfashionable, subjects such as educational exclusion, and the power of art to change the lives of everyday people. It celebrates achievement and inspiration, unlike mainstream media which now treats ignorance as a virtue. The central thread of choral music is about as far from today's Michael Jackson obsessed society in the UK and US as it is possible to get.
The Chorus treats music as a therapeutic tool, an important but little understood subject which this blog has touched on in Serendipidity 2, and also links to the work done by Professor Paul Robertson using the music of Bach with Alzheimer's sufferers, (which sadly claimed Bernard Levin last year) - see his web site Music, Mind and Spirit. There are also some interesting digs at the disciplinary policy used by the school's principal of action - reaction. I couldn't help wondering whether this wasn't a metaphor for US foreign policy?
Gerard Jugnot as the inspirational
music teacher, but will his inspiration
reach beyond France?
Yes, The Chorus is simplistic and stylised. But so are folk stories, parables and much great literature. Billy Elliott treats the same themes with equal flair, but was embraced by the UK media presumably because it was home grown. The tragedy of The Chorus is that it is unlikely to succeed outside France simply because it is a deeply unfashionable film. Yes Pliable is a Francophile - and vive la difference!