Film / Les Choristes

See upon your path
Children forgotten and lost
Give them your hand
To lead them
To other tomorrows.

Les Choristes (literally "The Choristers", translated as The Chorus) is a 2004 French-language film.

America, present day. Wildly successful orchestra conductor Pierre Morhange is called back to France for his mother's funeral, and is visited by Pépinot, his one-time classmate. He's brought a photograph of their school years, and the diary that their teacher kept.

Rewind back to 1949. Clément Mathieu, a failed musician, accepts a post at 'Fond de l'Etang' ('Rock Bottom'), a school for delinquent boys. Horrified both by their behaviour and the brutally repressive methods of headmaster Rachin, he begins to teach his class music as a way to get their attention. It... doesn't all go according to plan.

Les Choristes provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: Ne Jamais Dire Jamais (Never Say Never)
  • Bawdy Song: Mondain loves these.
  • Bittersweet Ending: When the school burns down, Mathieu is out of a job, having recently been told the woman he loves is with another man (who the viewer is told leaves her shortly afterwards). The only thing stopping it from being a total Downer is the audience's knowledge of Morhange's future and the Crowning Moment of Heartwarming that occurs in the last few moments.
  • Broken Ace: Implied with Rachin, a former trumpet player who clearly states he had no desire to be a teacher. His broken dreams clearly put him just as much at the "rock bottom" as the children.
  • Catch-Phrase: "Action-Reaction" is constantly spouted by several characters.
  • Chekhov's Gun: "My parents are coming for me on Saturday." Said by the orphaned Pépinot, despite visiting days not being on Saturday. Then Mathieu adopts him after he gets fired. When was he fired? On a Saturday.
    • The boy who wanted to become a hot-air balloon pilot when he grew up. It turns out he was behind the theft Mondain was sent to prison for, all because he wanted to buy a hot air balloon.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: One of the key themes is how the boys are used to a cycle of them doing something bad, and regardless of the punishment are beaten by Mr Rachin, sent to the cell and forced to clean the school.
  • Dreadful Musician: Corbin's singing is so off-key that Mathieu makes him into the choir's music stand.
  • Hidden Depths: Mathieu originally believes Chabert to be a strong supporter of Rachin's policies, but he is quickly revealed to be a genial, decent guy who helps Mathieu with his choir.
    • Rachin is shown trying to make his own paper airplanes and plays a game of football with the children, but this is later subverted.
  • Ironic Echo: "I am Clément Mathieu, a musician and each night I compose for [the children]." becomes "I am Clément Mathieu, a failed musician; a surveillant without employment."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Both of the other two supervisors are initially seen as disinterested or disciplinarian, yet Chabert later helps Mathieu run the choir after it is banned and Langlois ends up playing the piano for the group.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: At the middle of the movie, as the students behaviour is improving and the success of Mathieu's methods become apparent, Rachin at first seems to mellow in his harshness and become kinder, playing football with the students he previously despised. Towards the end of the film however, as he takes credit for Mathieu's work and then fires him for breaking the school rules by taking the boys out for a picnic, even though he saved their lives from the fire, it turns out that he's still the same bastard he was before.
  • Jerkass Façade: Morhange tries to pull one of these. Mathieu isn't impressed.
  • Karma Houdini: If Mondain is caught after setting the school on fire, we don't get to see it. He was, however punished for stealing the school's money when it was not him.
  • La Résistance: Thanks to Rachin banning the choir, Mathieu jokingly calls them this after they practice in private.
  • Last-Name Basis: The students are referred to by their last names.
  • Meaningful Name: The only teacher who tries to help/forgive/accept the boys at the school has a name that means 'merciful' (Clément Mathieu).
    • Rachin's name could be derived from the verb "cracher", to spit.
      • Also similar to "requin" (shark).
      • Morhange, referring to how Mr Régent called him "The face of an angel, but the mind of the devil".
  • One Steve Limit: Averted, one of the children is named Clément.
  • Parental Abandonment: Morhange due to his difficult behaviour and that his single mother can't make ends meet and has to constantly work.
  • Parental Substitute: Mathieu to Pépinot
    Violette: You haven't got any children?
    Mathieu: No. Well, I have 60.