" The only good bug is a dead bug "
Starship Troopers

MRQE Top Critic

Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

Sponsored links

MM: I heard the NPR critic say he liked Wes Anderson films, but he wasn’t “in the cult.” That’s where I’m coming from, too. Nevertheless, I think The Darjeeling Limited is one of Anderson’s better films. It all came together, and it didn’t seem as “forced” as some of his earlier films.

NR: Although I definitely have a position in that “cult”, I’m actually thankful that Adrian Brody caught the train for this film and Bill Murray missed it. The gray “father and son” conflict that seems to be in all of Anderson’s films is illustrated so much more comfortably here than The Life Aquatic, especially when the self-aware presence of Murray isn’t burying the rich subtext of the story.

Father Issues

Brothers stop for a little shopping on their way to enlightenment
Brothers stop for a little shopping on their way to enlightenment

MM: I suppose we should say something about the plot. Murray races through the streets of Mumbai to catch a train. He just misses it, but Brody catches it; on board are his two brothers played by Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson (whose head is wrapped in bandages throughout the film).

Wilson insists that the three brothers make every effort to get along, heal old wounds, and pursue enlightenment. “Can we all agree to that?” ... as though enlightenment could be caught in a pursuit.

NR: And again, the root of the problems that are surrounding these three stem from their deceased father. What I found interesting was in the Onion a couple weeks ago, they had a small article titled “NEW WES ANDERSON FILM FEATURES DEADPAN DELIVERY, METICULOUS ART DIRECTION, CHARACTERS WITH FATHER ISSUES” and you’d think that the concept would be stale by now, yet it turned out rather fresh.

Brother Issues

MM: There’s one scene I really had a problem with. It’s a spoiler, so proceed at your own risk. It’s the scene where the brothers come upon some children in peril. The scene was really contrived and it took me out of the movie. It could worked just as well to have them come upon a child who was already drowning as to have them witness a rope snap dramatically in front of their eyes.

NR: I disagree. When they come up on the three brothers crossing the river, I think Owen Wilson’s line, “Look at those assholes,” is very important to help the audience establish the connection between the young boys and our protagonists.

MM: ... or more importantly to show once again how shallow the American brothers are…

NR: A substantial part of their spiritual journey focused on the parallels of what they go through with these kids, and seeing them together at the beginning of the scene was important to me.

MM: I suppose. Obviously this is the movie about the Americans and not the Indian kids, so I think their reactions are what’s important… the kids are basically plot devices… but yes, it’s an important scene.

Speaking of spiritual journeys… I was relieved that the movie presented India as being very down-to-earth. I think a lot of Westerners have too much reverence for things Eastern—that India and the Orient are holy places full of awakenings. No. The Indians our characters meet are just regular people, as likely to go shopping as to go to church. The staff on the train are particularly down-to-earth.

Short Subject

MM: We had the privilege of seeing a short film before the feature. It’s called Hotel Chevalier, and it’s a prologue to the feature film. I didn’t really think it worked (unless you wanted an excuse to ogle a nude Natalie Portman). But there were props and events and characters referred to in the feature that you’d only know if you saw the short. It really added resonance to the movie… although, again, it didn’t really stand that well on its own.

NR I had the same reaction, but ultimately I’m glad that it wasn’t part of the film. I am looking forward to seeing it again, now that I can put the characters into context, I feel it will be more interesting on second viewing.

Anderson’s Signature

MM: I thought there was some great camera stuff going on—the camera was often taking the perspective of a human being—turning its head to look at another character. It would be easy to do that style badly. I dread the film festival submissions next year that will feature copycat handheld, panning-from-face-to-face camera work that will just look cheesy. But photographer Robert D. Yeoman and Anderson pull it off.

NR: I think the setting definitely was a test for his style since he usually films old buildings with lots of character. The landscapes seemed like a healthy change to me.

MM: But there’s still a lot of interiors. I bet you remember the cutaway submarine pan-through in Life Aquatic. I appreciated the train-car pan-through in Darjeeling toward the end. It was the same sort of where-are-they-now montage, a nice way to give each of the characters a curtain call.

NR: Wes always has a signature to all of his films, and this is one of them that always seems to stand out the most. It’s odd to me that he didn’t end the film with a slow motion shot like he has done with earlier work. When the boys finally figure out how to handle their baggage, I was sure that would be the closure, but much to my surprise he ended the film on a different note. Perhaps to keep the story open?

MM: Last question: I say 3 1/2 stars out of 4. What say you?

NR: Sounds good.