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The Chorus (Les Choristes) (2004)The Chorus (Les Choristes) (2004)—French

An unlikely teacher, the failed musician Clément Mathieu, radically transforms the lives of incorrigible delinquents who are imprisoned in the decrepit Fond de l'étang boarding school with peeling paint, rusted gates, and no coal for the furnace. Yes, a sadomasochist headmaster who beats and screams at the kids, Mr. Rachin, runs the school. The film opens with two old men, Pierre and Pepinot, who meet for the first time since they were both—surprise—classmates at Fond de l'étang. Pierre, now a world famous conductor, asks whatever happened to Mathieu, and as luck would have it Pepinot just happens to have the old man's diary. The film backtracks to their school days and the story of Mathieu's remarkable influence. The Chorus is formulaic, sentimental, improbable and predictable, but I liked it. Perhaps that is because I recently visited my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Tilley, now 90 years old, or because my wife teaches second graders. Still, this film is good if not great, and earned two Academy Award nominations, including Best Foreign Film. In French with English subtitles.

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