Lamenting the “Wal-Mart-ization of the foreign-film market” in the United States, Village Voice critic Michael Atkinson coined the term Miramaxical in his review of Gabriele Salvatores’s I’m Not Scared to refer to “heavy-handed imports that could just as easily have been made by the blandest hacks in Burbank.” The latest entry in this officially unofficial movie genre is Christopher Barratier’s Les Choristes, no-child-left-behind drivel about a Gallic Patch Adams who arrives at a Dickensian hell hole somewhere in the French countryside and teaches a Dead Kids Society how to sing like the angels. It’s a film that knows its audience: When the ruffians finally learn to chant in sync and perform before socialites from the nearby area, you almost expect to see Rex Reed and Jeffrey Lyons pitching tents in the crowd. Rather than appeal to our social anxieties and spiritual curiosity, this invasively mawkish creation looks to put lumps in our throats by any means possible. You know the drill: the happy moments are sad; the sad moments are happy; the bad guys wear black (and pluck their nose hairs). It’s like a lousy silent film, except you can actually hear the Big Emotions and the director hasn’t told anyone to tone it down at least 20 notches. Everyone has a past but it scarcely registers beneath the violins—those who didn’t lose their families to the Nazis (!) wait on the weekends for parents that will never come (!!)—but worse is how these loveably incorrigible brats are condescendingly reduced to Type A personalities: Most are variations of the Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist, but there’s only one Oedipus Rex, a rascal with the face of an angel and the voice of a castrati who surprises Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) with his remarkable instrument at the exact moment the loveable supervisor is looking for a soprano. Throughout the film, little orphan Pépinot—too young to apparently read or sing or do much of anything—parks himself on Clément’s desk. It’s like watching one of those fat accordion-playing Italians with a singing monkey that bourgeois New Yorkers throw quarters at in the movies. The metaphor applies to the film itself, a shrill circus act people love to confuse for foreign correspondence.
- Christopher Barratier
- Christopher Barratier, Philipp Lopes-Cuval
- Gérard Jugnot, François Berléand, Kad Merad, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marie Bunel, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Maxence Perrin, Grégory Gatignol, Thomas Blumenthal, Cyril Bernicot, Simon Fargeot
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