When music soothes the soul

He is your regular, everyday kind of guy, the one who loses his job («Une Epoque Formidable»), his girlfriend («Le Pere Noel est Une Ordure»), and even his daughter («Meilleur Espoir Feminin»). But now, this loser is about to become a source of inspiration and joy. In Christophe Barratier’s touching «Les Choristes» (The Choir Singers), Gerard Jugnot takes his average Frenchman status a step further. He is Clement Mathieu, a failed teacher who arrives in a small-town boarding school in 1949. Strictly administered by a harsh headmaster, the institution pays little attention to the children’s emotional needs. That is until Mathieu sets up a choir, opening a window into a beautiful new world. Already bought by Miramax, the film was recently shown during the 5th French Film Festival of Athens and the Balkans (the festival ends at the French Institute tomorrow) and received the public’s award. Besides, Jugnot, the cast also includes Francois Berleand, Jacques Perrin and Marie Brunel. Was this a key role in Jugnot’s long-established career? «I don’t know if it’s a key role, but it certainly is a key film,» said Jugnot to Kathimerini English Edition, during a short visit in Athens. «I have shot many films, some of them were successful in France, for a Francophone audience. But in this film, I think that Christophe [Barratier] has touched upon something quite universal. The film is doing extremely well and has been sold all over the world; it is intimate and original.» Splendid Born in Paris in 1951, Jugnot and his high-school pals Christian Clavier, Thierry Lhermitte and Michel Blanc, established the acting and writing Splendid troupe, taking Parisian theater by a comedy storm. At the same time, Jugnot debuted in cinema in Bertrand Blier’s «Les Valseuses» (1974), Bertrand Tavernier’s «Le Juge et l’Assasin» (1976) and Roman Polanski’s «Le Locataire» (1976). True blockbusting success, however, came with Patrice Leconte’s «Les Bronzes» (1978) and Jean-Marie Poire’s «Le Pere Noel est Une Ordure,» two classic French comedies in which the Splendid team triumphed. At the same time, the actor turned into a director, beginning with «Pinot Simple Flic» in 1984 and «Scout Toujours,» a year later. Soon, Jugnot became a bittersweet comedy master. «There is no recipe when it comes to making a film. And those who base their work on recipes eventually fail; that makes me very happy,» said Jugnot. «The movies we come up with are prototypes and one never knows. Take ‘Les Choristes,’ for instance, which began with great difficulties; not a lot of people believed in it and then, bang, it was pure magic.» While a number of directors could have given the script a cinematic life, what makes «Les Choristes» so luminous, according to Jugnot, is Barratier’s sense and use of music (the director is also a musician) – music that ultimately unleashes emotions. «It’s not about saying out loud that a film is amusing or moving. We either laugh or we cry; that’s what I like about cinema,» said Jugnot. «I believe in acupuncture cinema, where we insert the needle; we found the right spot here and we did some good – to ourselves and to the public.»

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