The Chorus (PG-13)
A sweet fable about a teacher who changes his student's lives, The Chorus, nominated by the French film industry as its entry in the 2005 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film, has little new to offer to the genre (think Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Mr. Holland's Opus) but much to offer overall.
Grard Jugnot plays the teacher in question, Mr. Mathieu, with kind eyes and a steady temperament. Upon his arrival at Fond de l'Etang, a school for wayward boys in the French countryside, Mr. Mathieu discovers a cruel headmaster, Rachin (Francois Brleand), a kind old groundskeeper, Maxence (Jean-Paul Bonnaire) and a decrepit building overrun by unruly, mistreated and neglected boys.
He brings the gift of music -- a briefcase stuffed with his compositions -- and tames the beasts with song. It's not likely that this ragtag group, after a few months of practice, would sound as wonderful as Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc Choir, the professional boys choir that recorded the soundtrack. But this deceit is not so much a distraction as a gift; the sight of those smudged faces singing together is authentically comical and touching. And the sound they are lip-synching to is divine.
The film is framed as a trip down memory lane. The finest boy singer, Morhange, has grown up to be the one of the world's great conductors. When he returns home for his mother's funeral, he is visited by Pepinot, a former classmate at Fond de l'Etang. Pepinot presents Morhange with a handmade book, Mr. Mathtieu's journal of his time at the school, written 50 years before. Thankfully, the present doesn't intrude throughout the film, but merely opens and closes it.
Director Christophe Barratier doesn't yank at heartstrings as shamelessly as many American directors would with the same material, but lets the characters and their actions speak for themselves. The film is subtle, and emotions sneak up quietly.
In a winter film season bereft so far of any originality or memorable work, films like this are a welcome relief. Kimball's Twin Peak is showing The Chorus opposite Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood-meets-Hollywood musical, with the new Merchant of Venice on the second screen. Patrons should thank their lucky stars, and Kimball's, for having a choice outside the multiplex big box.
Kimball's Twin Peak, in French with English subtitles