Les Choristes tells the story of a school teacher who gets posted at a reform school for difficult boys called Fond de l’étang (“Bottom of the pond”). He teaches them how to sing, puts them all in a choir, and writes some awesome music for them — and everyone lives happily ever after. That’s pretty much it.
When I read the description, I knew this sounded like my kind of movie.
It actually was really well done. Plot was solid, acting was good, characters were interesting.
The lead character, the music teacher, is a round faced, balding, awkward, energetic man. When he arrives at the school, the kids call him “tête d’obus” (shell head) and steal his wallet. He wins their favour by not reporting them to the principal, who is a wicked, vindictive man whose main punishment for the boys is his cane and “le cachot,” a kind of solitary confinement dungeon that he locks them up in for hours at a time.
There are some memorable characters among the boys. There is the quiet, irreverent trouble maker who has a perfect soprano voice that he only reveals when he is by himself. The teacher overhears him singing while hanging up laundry (kind of like Mr. Schuester overhearing Kurt singing in the shower in Glee).
The teacher then tells the boy’s mother about her son’s talent and tries to convince her to take him away from the school to audition for the conservatory in Lyon. He also falls in love with her — but unfortunately, not she for him.
The most poignant part of the film is the story of a little six or seven year old boy called Pépinot. He lost his parents in the war (the film is set in 1949) and though he’s been told a hundred times, the fact that his mother is dead doesn’t register with him. So every Saturday he goes to the iron fence at the edge of the school’s property and waits for her to come and pick him up. The other boys force him to pay them in coins in exchange for letting him eat at the dining hall and sleep in his bed at night.
Pépinot is in the choir too — he becomes the “assistant conductor.” The teacher hoists him up onto a desk and has him fetch things for him — the baton, the music, etc. Finally at the end of the movie, the teacher takes him away from the school, to what we can only imagine is a better life.
The music is terrific. Really lovely songs. Here is my favourite from the movie: