" Be careful of the deadfall "
— Anthony Hopkins, The Edge

MRQE Top Critic

Les Choristes

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

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Set in a small town in Iceland (in winter, no less), Noi Albinoi is a meditation on loneliness and isolation. It’s not “superbly entertaining” or any other Shalit-ism, but it does offer food for thought. It was more interesting rattling around in my head afterwards than while watching it.

Isolationism

Noi decides to drive to Hawaii
Noi decides to drive to Hawaii
DVD features amplify the ambivalence in this Icelandic isolation epic
DVD features amplify the ambivalence in this Icelandic isolation epic

It’s not important to the plot that Noi is an albino, but it makes sense metaphorically. People with opposite personalities would be described as “colorful” characters. Noi is a blank slate. Audiences (and other characters) can project any traits they like onto him. For example, some say he’s dumb because he does poorly in school, while other assume he’s a genius bored with his classes. We never really know for sure. What we do know is that he’s a bored teenager, and who hasn’t been?

Noi is not the only pale face in the movie. The film has a slightly blue, washed out pallor. Everyone’s face is pale and wan. The only vivid colors in the film come from Noi’s Viewmaster.

Noi’s boredom is understandable. There’s nothing to do in small-town Iceland in the winter but drink or socialize with the handful of other townsfolk. The place Noi retreats to when the world is too lonely is, ironically, a tiny little cubby under his grandma’s floorboards. Maybe it’s a more finite sense of isolation than up in the snowy small town.

One day at the gas station, Noi takes a liking to the new girl working there. Then again, she’s the first girl his age we’ve seen, so he probably can’t afford to be too selective. That’s true of his male friends as well. While driving his dad’s taxi, he stops at his friend’s house. By the chilly reception he gets, we understand that the other kid isn’t even his friend, but rather just someone he knows from class. If Noi is like me, he probably spent half an hour trying to decide whether the risk of embarrassment was worth the reward of a respite from boredom. In this case, the cost was too high.

Living Color

We can sympathize with Noi, but there’s always a coolness, always a distance. We want him to do well, but not because he’s engaged us emotionally, but only because we sympathize. We probably don’t want to be his friend, but we want him to have one.

His maddening boredom culminates with him stealing a car and inviting the girl to run away with him, although where he thinks he’s going in a car, in Iceland, in the winter, is mystifying. The cops catch him and, as punishment, put him in isolation.

As a final cruel irony, the movie finds one last way to make Noi even more alone than he had been, leaving him only his sad little Viewmaster of paradise. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that this dream place, Hawaii, is also an island, populated by a single brown-skinned native, the only difference between the two places being that one is in living color, the other is a bleak reality.