As impossible as it is not to get the feeling that this nice looking Belgian film was written in an effort to showcase the music it contains, it’s equally impossible not to become at least a little swept up in its decidedly “feel good” story about old musical rivals squaring off through their protégés at a musical competition. Similarly, if you’re a music lover, it’s hard not to respond to the film’s doses of Mahler, Mozart, Schumann, Puccini, Bellini and Verdi. In that regard, Gérard Corbiau’s The Music Teacher (1988) is a delight. (The less said about the Internet Movie Database’s claim that if you enjoyed this movie, you might also like Hilary Duff in Raise Your Voice (2004) the better.) Real-life opera star José van Dam stars as (big surprise) an opera star who retires from the stage and spends his time training two singers (Anne Roussel and Philippe Volter) for a kind of by-proxy showdown with his old nemesis, Prince Scotti (Patrick Bauchau).
The film is beautifully mounted and there’s a kind of nod to Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva (1981) in period form with van Dam not wanting to have his voice recorded. It’s all done nicely, and it does capture the intensity of vocal training and the world of opera. As such, it’s a well made, entertaining work, but it never quite gets away from the sense that it’s a bit of a “culture vulture” version of the traditional uplifting sports movie. The difference being, of course, that instead of the sport-of-choice, it’s singing that’s at issue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that—personally, I’d rather hear someone sing Mahler than watch someone play football—but it does lend a certain predictability to the film once you realize that it’s an old formula in an unusual guise.