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Originally published Friday, January 28, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Review

"The Chorus" overdirects our emotions

A round-faced fellow with a comfortable pair of chins, schoolteacher Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) gazes serenely at his...

Seattle Times movie critic

A round-faced fellow with a comfortable pair of chins, schoolteacher Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) gazes serenely at his classroom of misfit boys. It's 1949, the school (named "Fond de l'etang" — literally, "rock bottom") is gloomy, and the boys are troubled — but Mathieu, a frustrated musician, seems to know that all they need is a little choral singing to curb their delinquent tendencies. And — mon Dieu! — he's right.

Christophe Barratier's "The Chorus," an Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film, exists in an elegantly gray-tinged fantasy world, where bad people (the nasty headmaster who doesn't understand the boys' potential) malevolently clip their nose hairs while the good people bask in flattering lighting. The film is certainly lovely to look at, thanks to Carlo Varini and Dominique Gentil's artful photography, and a pleasure to listen to, particularly if you're fond of classical music and wistful boychoirs. (The original music was composed by Barratier, with Bruno Coulais.)

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 3 stars

"The Chorus (Les Choristes)," with Gérard Jugnot, François Berléand, Kad Merad, Marie Bunel, Jean-Baptiste Maunier. Directed by Christophe Barratier, from a screenplay by Barratier and Philippe Lopes-Curval. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some language/sexual references and violence. In French with English subtitles. Harvard Exit.

A huge box-office hit in France, it's all very "Monsieur Holland's Opus," and it plays to the emotions effectively. But Barratier's film never quite springs to life, because it's just a little too calculated.

The first time little Pépinot (Maxence Perrin) raises his vulnerable, shining eyes to the camera, it's charming; the fifth time, it's somewhat less so. Likewise, young Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Maunier, who does his own bell-like singing), described as "face of an angel, spawn of the devil," has a few too many moody close-ups in which he looks more like a teen model than a rebellious schoolboy.

Jugnot, a star of French cinema who's little-known here, has an amused twinkle in his eye for much of the proceedings that's very appealing; it's not difficult to picture him thriving in a more comic milieu. With its pleasant but familiar message of an inspiring teacher and the healing power of art, "The Chorus" nicely passes the time on a rainy afternoon but never transports us into the better world it shows us: We smile and maybe even weep on cue, but we're still kept at a distance looking in, peering through a pretty window.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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