By James Madden. Viewed 25.04.10
Director Radu Mihaileanu (Train of Life, Live and Become) has brought a French/Russian masterpiece to the screen, with an unusual but hilarious and moving story, that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Andrei Filipov (Aleksei Guskov) is a formerly famous conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra in Moscow. His career came to a catastrophic end 30 years ago when Ivan Gavrilov (Valeriy Barinov), an influential spokesperson for the Communist Party, hijacked the stage in the middle of a Tchaikovsky concerto, to make the public aware of Andrei’s hiring of Jewish players in his orchestra. The anti-Semitic times of late 1970s and early 1980s Russia thus lead to Andrei’s career falling down the toilet.
We pick up 30 years later where Andrei now works as a cleaner of the Bolshoi’s theatre. While cleaning the director of the company’s office, Andrei discovers an invitation that has just come through by fax for the Bolshoi to play in the famous Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. Seizing the opportunity, Andrei steals the invitation and gathers up all of his old friends to make up an orchestra, go to Paris, play at the Chatelet and finish the Tchaikovsky concerto that saw the end of his career 30 years ago.
Along with the aid of Andrei’s friend Sacha (Dmitry Nazarov) and his wife Irina (Anna Kamenkova Pavlova), Andrei uses Gavrilov (the man who ruined his career) as a manager, simply for his ability to speak fluent (if not eccentric) French and to trick the managers of the Theatre du Chatelet into believe that they are indeed the Bolshoi. Andrei has one demand though: to have the French violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds) play the solo in the concerto, for personal reasons that come into play in the later part of the film.
The Concert has such a strong script at its helm. Its words are so carefully chosen for the most hilarious and moving effects. Much of the humour is derived from language, whether it be the tone and volume of which Ivan Gavrilov speaks in (very loud and very rude) or how many of the Russian characters make mistakes with their French. One of the other hilarious scenes comes at the wedding for a wealthy political hot-shot, who also doubles as a terrible cello player. A gangland war breaks out during the wedding, and much hilarity manages to inappropriately ensue, whereby Ivan enlists the political hot-shot and his money.
However, these lost in translation moments are just one of the strong parts of the script. In one scene towards the end of the film, Andrei dines with Annie-Marie and describes why he wants to play Tchaikovsky for the concerto, and its here where we see writer/director Radu Mihaileanu’s talent take true form, playing out the dramatic, as well as the comedic.
While being very comedic, the film touches on some deeper racial points. Andrei’s career was ruined from Ivan Gavrilov intruding on his concerto and branding him for having Jewish members, and the theme of racism is plotted through the movie with Gavrilov’s involvement with Communism, making a point about politics, power and its effect of the arts.
The acting in The Concert is truly magnificent. Aleksei Gustov holds the film together with such warmth and dignity. He plays a man whose reputation and career have been unceremoniously cast aside, and the despair that he displays make you root for him, the underdog, and make you desperate to see him play the concerto that he was born to conduct. Melanie Laurent is a breath of fresh air. Learning the violin for months, Laurent shows off a talent that could easily be mistaken for a classically trained musician.
Along with a cast of talented French and Russian actors, Laurent and Gustov lead The Concert into its final breathtaking minutes. It is these final moments that the film could be sold on for alone. The Tchaikovsky concerto sees an overwhelming love displayed by the filmmakers, as well as the players on-screen, and it is within these moments where cinematic magic happens.
The Concert is an eccentric French and Russian musical delight. Funny, moving and so intrinsically arty, its hard not to love.