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The Chorus (Les choristes) is a 2004 Frenchmarker drama film directed by Christophe Barratier. Co-written by Barratier and Philippe Lopes-Curval, it is a remake of the 1945 film A Cage of Nightingales (La Cage aux Rossignols), which was adapted by Noël-Noël and René Wheeler from a story by Wheeler and Georges Chaperot.

The film explores the pain of a child's separation from his parents and the transcendence of music as the greatest form of expression.

Plot Synopsis

In present time, conductor Pierre Morhange learns of the death of his mother. After the funeral he receives an unexpected visit from one of his former classmates, Pépinot, whom he has not seen for 50 years. He shows him a diary written by their supervisor, Clement Mathieu. In 1949, Clement Mathieu, an unemployed music teacher, accepts a job as supervisor in the boarding school called “Fond de l’étang” (literally translated, “bottom of the pond”), where difficult boys are sent. Rachin, the headmaster, reigns with iron discipline and his motto is: "action, reaction!" As soon as a student disobeys the rules, he is punished mercilessly.

Forced to punish the one who set a trap on the door to the infirmary, injuring the institution’s jack-of-all-trades, Mathieu realizes that the children need more understanding and freedom. He manages to obtain permission from the headmaster to form a choir in class. The story is an attempt to compare two visions of the school: the headmaster who wants only discipline and Mathieu, who seeks to give the children hope and opportunity through the choir.

An older boy, Mondain, is entrusted to the boarding school by a psychiatrist, but Mathieu fails with him. Rachin wrongly accuses him of stealing a large sum of money belonging to the establishment and expells him.

However, the headmaster must please its benefactors, including a Countess who helps finance the boarding school. She hears of the choir and wants to hear them sing. Mathieu is thus able to show his success, particularly the voice of Morhange, a withdrawn and obstinate boy when dealing with adults, but a talented singer.

The headmaster takes all the credit for the chorus, even though Mathieu is solely responsible. At the beginning of summer, Rachin leaves to meet with the beneficiaries of the school and Mathieu is left in charge. While he’s gone, fire destroys part of the boarding house. Mondain, seen nearby with a cigarette, is most likely responsible. Fortunately, the children are safe, since Mathieu had taken them on a field trip that day. The headmaster, seeking every opportunity to get rid of Mathieu, accuses him of taking the children on a forbidden field trip and, after a nasty argument, fires him. The supervisor then leaves the school, thinking the children will forget him, but on his way out they throw paper airplanes with expressions of thanks and wishes for a good life. In a split-second decision, Mathieu adopts Pépinot, one of the youngest boys who is also an orphan, and takes him with him when he leaves.

Production notes

The film was shot on location at Château de Ravelmarker in Puy-de-Dômemarker.

The film was shown at the Chicago International Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival, the Heartland Film Festival, the Milwaukee International Film Festival, and the Scottsdale Film Festival in the U.S. before opening in LA (Los Angeles) in time to qualify for the 77th Academy Awards.

The songs in the film were performed by Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc.

Les Choristes had a worldwide gross of $82,737,984 including $3,629,758 in the U.S.

Principal cast

Critical response

In her review in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis called the film "a deeply conventional story about truculent or orphaned boys and the gentle soul who finds himself by shaping the tots into a chorus. Think Lean on Me meets Mr. Holland's Opus with soaring sopranos and a soupçon of drama."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed it "feels more like a Hollywood wannabe than a French film. Where's the quirkiness, the nuance, the deeper levels? . . . since I know the story and so does everybody else in the theater, it should have added something new and unexpected."

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Walter Addiego described the film as "a nicely made exercise in pathos" and added, "It's decently performed and directed, and features a young actor with an impressive set of pipes - he does all his own singing here - but the film is finally a letdown. It says nothing new about its well-worn theme of teacher as deliverer."

Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune rated the film three out of a possible four stars and commented, "Gerard Jugnot . . . possesses the priceless gifts of screen vulnerability, empathy and emotional clarity . . . and he uses all his skills to moving effect in The Chorus . . . [Its] emotional power may surprise some audiences who, taking their cues from TV cable news ranters, caricature the French as frosty snobs. The Chorus disproves that cliché while reawakening a time when life and movies seemed simpler and making that simplicity a virtue. Most of all, it lets young Maunier sing and Jugnot act. Corny it may be, but [it] does connect. Like all good popular entertainments, the best of it sings."

Awards and nominations


  1. Les Choristes at
  2. New York Times review
  3. Chicago Sun-Times review
  4. San Francisco Chronicle review
  5. Chicago Tribune review

External links

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