Beyond the music, the film's greatest strength is its lightness of touch. While dealing in a nostalgia for the imagined rural childhoods of la douce France
, Les Choristes
is never sugary sweet. This ability to embrace wholehearted sentimentality while keeping ones feet on the floor is a trait Les Choristes
shares with many other French films of recent decades, including Amélie
and the sun-drenched Marcel Pagnol adaptations Jean de Florette
/Manon des Sources
and La Gloire de mon Père
/Le Château de ma Mère
However, Les Choristes
could have benefited from another 20 minutes of narrative exposition and development of character. I was disappointed somewhat by how the adult characters were portrayed as little more than archetypes, and even the central character of Claude Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) seemed thinly drawn.
The kids were also lacking in any sense of a past or a future: they are inmates of a harsh reform school, yet we are permitted to discover only the barest details about why they were there. The angel-voiced Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Maunier
) seems brooding and resentful, probably in need of a father figure and some family stability, but little more. The bespectacled Boniface appears just waywardly precocious rather than an urchin in need of discipline. I found it difficult to empathise with the situation of any of the boys, except perhaps the diminutive war orphan Pepinot, (Maxence Perrin, son of Jacques Perrin
), who provides the best performance of any of the young actors in the film.
In this light, the harsh treatment often meted out to the boys seemed to lack much context. For a far more convincing (and moving) depiction of life in an orphanage, I highly recommend the 2001 film Torzók ("Abandoned")
by Hungarian director Árpád Sopsits.
I was confused by the cursory way in which the tragedy of the delinquent, cynical and sadistic teenager Mondain was handled. Mondain arrives, and he consistently eschews the redemption offered by Mathieu and anyone else in authority. The events surrounding his banishment and subsequent return to the reform school that "sparks" (*wink*) the final drama of the film are told in a perfunctory manner, and do little to illuminate the other events in the film.
Despite my reservations, I was very glad I went to see Les Choristes
. It's light viewing, highly enjoyable, avoids schmaltz and it will make some people cry. And I can safely say that the singing is quite, quite exceptional.