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The Chorus - A film rating not really justified

By Patricia Connell

A film by:
Christophe Barratier

Gerard Jugnot
Marie Brunel
Kad Merad
Jacques Perrin

The Story

This film has simply broken all box office records with over 9 million tickets sold last year when it came out in France. Although a small budget film, it captivated immediately everyone's imagination. An out of work music teacher, played by Jugnot, who is given the post of monitor in a juvenile centre had hit a chord amongst teachers. Everywhere in France choirs have enjoyed a real boom and cannot cope with the demand. Children of all ages have been singing songs from the film and teachers have started many choirs in schools all around France. Has The Chorus been a success? It has been more than that it has become a real phenomenon. So when a few weeks ago I was asked if I would like to interview Christophe Barratier, how could I possibly refuse? This young film director for whom The Chorus was his first film has succeeded where other more experienced directors have failed. I was curious to find out what sort of man he was.

Our comments

I have seen this film twice now and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. I don't know anyone who has not liked it. You can most definitely take your children to see it. There is nothing in there that they have not seen or heard before. They will love it.

Your film plays off the two characters' waiting.

This, I think, is what makes it a sentimental thriller. Mystery, uncertainty, fear, doubt and suspense, all built around the emotions. I don't dare say that it is a love story, because it is more perverted, more atypical, and Platonic as well.
I enjoy delaying expectations. For me, the most beautiful thing to film, the most touching part, is the prelude, what "comes before." This is not a matter of virginal bashfulness, just a question of being attentive, of respecting, of delaying "the moment when..." In this case a type of desire floats above their heads, a type of trouble of which they become increasingly aware. We guess when they are beginning to fall in love.

There are many strong supporting roles.

I had already worked with Michel Duchaussoy in LA VEUVE DE SAINT PIERRE ("The Widow of St. Pierre") and I was happy to work with him again.. He had a grand time with the role of the psychiatrist. More than anyone, I like Anne Brochet. Her character, Jeanne, was not really easy to pull off. If there is one person who got nothing out of this adventure, it was her. She is really incredible. Helene Surgere plays Madame Mulon, the good faithful "secretary from father to son" who knows the house like the back of her hand. She brings just the right maternal note to the character.
The character played by Gilbert Melki (Anna's husband), who is very important because Anna is always making reference to him, only has two scenes in which he really shows up. There's no room for the actor to make any false moves. Gilbert Melki was exemplary. I remember at one point his expression was dark, profound, terrible and then in the same instant it revealed a total fragility.

Interview with Christophe Barratier

It is clear that your film has achieved an enormous success. You have started a real phenomenon throughout France. There isn't a French Child that has seen the film or sung the songs at school and yet the Americans and the English have given your film a rating of -13 and -12A respectively which means that most school children in the States will not be allowed to see the film and very few in the UK will be taken to see it by their parents. How do you feel about it?

I still cannot understand why this rating was given to the film. There is nothing there. Do you know why?

It would appear that the use of swear words and allusions to child molesting had something to do with it. You know think about Mrs Doubtfire. It received a 12 when it came out a few years back. What you have is the same rating as a James Bond movie with sex and violence. You know, the Americans and the British have a very different attitude towards this type of things.

But that is no more than what children would hear in the playground or on TV. Take the Michael Jackson case for example. It's everywhere. Isn't that hypocritical? I don't suppose a rating can be changed, can they?

I don't think so unless you removed all the scenes containing the swear words and the allusions. Haven't they given you some sort of reasons as why they have done this?
No and I would really like to understand.

The Chorus was your first movie and you have had such an amazing success with it. Did you expect it?

Not to this extent. You know, initially, when I was trying to get funds for the film, it proved impossible because film companies thought that the film idea was not commercial enough and now that the film has had 9 million tickets sold. Now people are saying that the film is too commercial. I always believed in it and if you believe in something you should go for it. When we started on the project, we did not have the financial backing Pathé came later with Canal +. We did well for a small budget film.

You did better than well, you also were nominated twice for Oscars in addition to all the other nominations you also received. Was the trip to Hollywood worth it?

Absolutely. It was a great moment for all of us.

Were you disappointed?

Not at all, in any case we knew before we went that the Spanish film was favourite. In the foreign film category, there aren't normally any surprises. We all knew what the winning order was.

What about your young protégé, Jean-Baptiste? How has he reacted to his star status?

I am incapable of making a judgment, but I have seen Sandrine Bonnaire. This film succeeds exactly in the same way as all the so-called action films do with their car chases, shoot outs, love-making scenes -- there's all sorts of things and nobody does anVery well actually. He has kept a cool head and has not been behaving like a spoilt child like some might have done. In fact, he and his father came with me to Hollywood. He loved it.
What about Jugnot? What was it like to be working with him?

His a great actor. He can play both comic and dramatic parts. That's what I like about him. I really enjoyed working with him. I am sure that I will work with him again.

Have you got anything else you are working on?

Yes. I have started working on script about an area of Paris during 1936, at the time of the Popular Front. The story is about how people in this area mobilise themselves. The Chorus took a good two years of my life and I want now to move on to my next project.

Everybody looks forward to your next film. It will be difficult to do better than with the last one.

Although Christophe Barratier had attended all the Premieres for the Chorus, he was unable to do so in England even though this was such an important market for the film. The reason was simple; he had to attend the French Film Festival in Cuba that he had helped develop in the last few years. The premiere went very well and the film was very well received by the public. It was very moving to hear the children's choir organised by the Voice Foundation sing a few of the film songs at the end of the film. I saw many people with tears in their eyes. Will the film create the same phenomenon in the UK? Let's hope so.


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