Claude Zidi Jr’s first solo-directed feature film Tenor will receive a national release on 7 December 2023. It made its Australian debut at the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023, where it was so popular it was selected for encore screenings.
Sushi delivery driver Antoine (rapper MB14, in his film debut) makes a delivery to the opulent Paris’ Opera Garnier. A brief interaction with a student catches the eyes, and ears, of the teacher, Madame Loysau (Michèle Laroque, In Your Arms, AFFFF 2010). An offer of tutelage follows and sees Antoine immersed into the upper-class competitive world of opera, quite a change to the world of rap battles and illegal fights.
But entry into such a different world doesn’t always come easily and acceptance of it in his middle-class family in the gritty, industrial setting of the Parisian banlieue isn’t guaranteed.
Director Claude Zidi Jr explains that the film took about 10 years from initial idea to being made with about 5 or 6 years of development and several versions of the script written in collaboration with Raphaël and Cyrille Droux. The initial idea was sparked by him seeing a teenaged boy and girl dancing rockabilly style outside a school while he was stopped at a traffic light in Saint-Ouen. While they logically didn’t fit together, he saw something beautiful in the contrast and immediately thought of creating something stemming from the dichotomy between rap and opera.
For his film acting debut, MB14 is impressive and persuasive as the rapper-turned‑opera-singer. This is aided by the fact that the voices you hear in Tenor are his own. He trained in opera singing for the film. The director said MB14 was a natural “It’s rare to discover an almost unknown actor in a leading role.”
As always, Michèle Laroque (Belle and Sebastien : The New Generation, AFFFF 2023 but also 1997 film Ma vie en Rose, and 2021 film The Closet (Le placard)) is wonderful as the singing teacher who sees and hears potential in the unlikely Opera Garnier school recruit. Together MB14 and Michele Laroque have great chemistry on screen, particularly in the comedic moments of Tenor.
Older brother Didier (Guillaume Duhesme, The Wolf’s Call (Le chant du loup), AFFFF 2020) is the proud leader of the household with Mum (played by the Director’s mother Hélène) living elsewhere and Dad not in their lives. Didier participates in underground boxing fights for money, where the winner takes all. Antoine plays lookout to alert them to scramble if the cops are on their way. But Didier is always looking for a fight – paid or not – especially if it’s about protecting his family name.
A smaller amusing role is that of the cousin Elio (Samir Decazza, who starred with Jean-Claude Van Damme in The Last Mercenary) who is eating constantly. Even dropping his food won’t deter him from picking it back up and eating it again. Antoine is clearly the most intelligent of his immediate family.
Childhood friend Samia (Maéva El Aroussi) who is off to join the French Army and is one of the few with a good head on their shoulders in Antoine’s immediate surroundings.
Real life opera singer, Marie Oppert, plays Josephine, the opera singer who first enchanted Antoine when he made that fateful sushi delivery. She introduces him into a world of fancy soirées, and family homes with their own theatres in them. Quite a contrast from the small spaces in high-rise flats Antoine is accustomed to.
Of choosing a real life opera singer in Marie Oppert, and a rapper from Marseilles for a rap battle scene, director Claude Zidi Jr says : “I wanted everything to be authentic: […] My aim was to choose people for who they are and for what they could bring to the film.”
The cameo appearance from French operatic tenor Roberto Alagna together with Tenor being filmed in the actual Opera Garnier (permission was granted at the last minute after what the Director says were several years of trying to convince Opera management) where the actual school exists bring extra touches of realism to the film. That is in addition to the persuasive acting already mentioned above.
Director Claude Zidi Jr is the son of French directing great Claude Zidi so stepping into his father’s footsteps comes with lofty expectations of living up to that same standard. While we cannot compare his career to his father’s, it’s quite easy to say that his debut feature film as sole director is an impressive one and the start, we hope, of something extraordinary. He says “I know that I’m here to shoot stories that are close to my heart, not just to “make a movie”.” If he follows in the same vein as he did with Tenor in perfecting the idea of many years, then we are sure his career will blossom.
Tenor fits nicely into both the comedy and drama categories with many moments of each. It is an inspiring, uplifting film about finding your place, even if it’s not where you expect it might be. It also highlights the power of music, no matter the genre, to change and move people.
P.S. We see that Director Claude Zidi Jr is directing the sequel to Maison de Retraite (The Villa) that we really enjoyed at the AFFFF 2022, which hopefully will come to Australian screens too.
PPS. Claude Zidi Jr’s next film is an idea which is even older than the idea for Tenor! This time it’s an idea he had when he was 16.
GIVEAWAY! – Studio Canal Australia has been kind enough to give us 5 in season cinema passes to see Tenor in Australian cinemas. Follow us on Facebook at and on Instagram at @matildamarseillaise_en and @matildamarseillaise_fr to catch the exclusive film passes giveaway post. Stay tuned for the details and your chance to win a double pass.
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