Teachers In Talkies | Les Choristes

Updated: Mar 18, 2019

We look at a 2004 classic film in Part 4 of our series about teachers in famous movies.


« Vois sur ton chemin
Gamins oubliés égarés
Donne leur la main
Pour les mener
Vers d'autres lendemains »

Does this ring a bell?


Les Choristes is a 2004 French film directed by Christophe Barratier, which you have probably heard about or even studied in depth in your French A Level lessons. In addition to being an excellent and deeply moving film, I find that it’s a great example of different teaching styles and as such, deserves its place in our Teachers In Talkies series.


The story is set in post-war France, in a boarding school for “troubled” boys called “Fond de l’Etang”. This means “Bottom of the Pond” and is a suitably gloomy name for the school. It is ruled by Rachin, a strict headmaster played by François Berléand, whose motto is “Action, reaction”, which means that every time a pupil breaks a rule, even slightly, he is heavily punished — discipline is seen as a reflex and no effort is made to try and put things in perspective or relate to the students. However, this doesn’t seem to be particularly successful and the boys are quite unruly!


The main character in the film is Clément Mathieu, who joins the school as a supervisor, and who also happens to be a failed musician. He doesn’t adhere to the headmaster’s principles of harsh discipline but is still shocked by the behaviour of the boys and does not want to let it go unpunished.


For instance, in one of the first key scenes of the film, the school’s elderly caretaker is injured by a booby trap set by one of the boys as a prank. If he had adopted the typical “Action, reaction” approach of the headmaster, Mathieu would probably have hunted the culprit down and made sure to punish him. However, he opts for a subtler course of action: he finds the culprit (Le Querrec) but doesn’t tell the headmaster. Instead, he talks to Le Querrec and encourages him to nurse the caretaker during his recovery. Punishment is thus conceived as a form of responsibility, where Le Querrec is encouraged to face the consequences of his own actions on other people, instead of being submitted to an arbitrary sanction coming from the headmaster.


However, in spite of his efforts, Mathieu is still struggling to be accepted and respected by the boys. The first time the boys are heard singing in the film is actually when they sing rude songs about him! This gives an idea to Mathieu, who is a talented musician in disguise: he will teach the boys how to sing, form a choir and use this as a strategy to enforce discipline at the school.


The film is rich in developments and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it, so I won’t say anything else about the story, but would like to extrapolate and imagine what Mathieu’s advice would be to educators, tutors and teachers alike:


- Think in terms of objectives, and not processes: the harsh discipline of the headmaster gives him an illusion of power, but it fails in establishing respect in the school. Instead of focusing on blinding enforcing the rules, Mathieu finds different ways to achieve his objective: by putting the emphasis on the boys’ responsibility towards their actions, he gives them an opportunity to grow and mature, and ultimately contributes more efficiently to the overall discipline of the school.


- Explore your students’ passion: even the best students sometimes lack motivation to do certain things. However, everyone is passionate about something and it’s often just a matter of finding out what this is! Even if this passion initially looks distant from your teaching aims, can you find a way to draw comparisons or create links between the two? Mathieu’s success in having a group of unruly boys to sing in an amazing choir seems to be proof that everything is possible!


Like the sound of this film? Remember that watching films in foreign languages is a great way to improve your language skills, as we discuss in Netflix your way to Language Mastery!


If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy the previous post in this series, Teachers In Talkies — Ferris Bueller's Day Off.


Blog Post Crafted by Adeline

Adeline helps to run our Admin Team. With a PhD in English, she can call herself a doctor but can’t write prescriptions!


Adeline manages the staff on our Admin Team, liaising with tutors, clients and applicants. She is responsible for processing the ID, Qualifications, DBS Check and References for all our newly joining tutors, as well as taking tuition enquiries, matching tutors to clients, and supporting tutors and clients throughout the process of tuition.

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