REVIEW: Le Concert [The Concert] [2009]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 119 minutes | Release Date: November 4th, 2009 (USA)
Studio: EuropaCorp. Distribution / The Weinstein Company
Director(s): Radu Mihaileanu
Writer(s): Radu Mihaileanu and Alain-Michel Blanc /
Héctor Cabello Reyes & Thierry Degrandi (short story)

“This is the real communism”

By no means as madcap as I had been under the impression it would be, Radu Mihaileanu’s Le concert [The Concert] is most definitely the uplifting comedy it’s American poster proclaims. The laughs it elicits are often earned by scenes hiding truths, their revelations the joke, and absurd nonsense during the chaotic whirlwind of three days in Paris to ready for a sold out concerto featuring ‘The [Russian] Maestro’, famously embarrassed in a public assassination on stage thirty years previous, and the incomparable Anne-Marie Jacquet, a world renowned violin soloist, tasked to bring Tchaikovsky to life. Currently employed for janitorial work at the Bolshoi Theatre, a place he once conducted masterpieces, Maestro Andrey Filipov (Aleksey Guskov) literally falls into this miraculous opportunity to right a three decades old wrong. His supposed conducting during the opening credits is soon shown as mere fantasy once the camera pulls back with the ringing of his phone interrupting the rehearsal below, but the mishap lands him in the orchestra director’s office, a full-scale room cleaning his punishment and the fax received as he scrubs on hands and knees his salvation.

In a moment of insanity, Filipov takes the faxed invitation for the Bolshoi—a weak shadow of the musicians he once led—to perform in Paris, subbing in for a recently canceled Los Angeles Philharmonic engagement. Believing this a chance to redeem the men and women he stewarded, an opportunity to finish the concerto he was viciously removed from the last time he ever held a baton, Filipov pulls out all stops. Permission from his wife Irina (Anna Kamenkova) is the easy part, the cajoling of best friend Sasha Grosman (Dmitri Nazarov) a mere playful difficulty, and the strange, perhaps suicidal, idea to enlist the former Bolshoi director Ivan Gavrilov (Valeriy Barinov), the same man who ended his concerto by snapping his baton in half, is surprisingly as simple as mentioning the word Paris. Jokingly—or not—a member of the KGB, Gavrilov begrudgingly sidesteps rules his communist self has sworn to follow and finds the negotiating prowess that made him such a success easy to find. His name still meaning something in orchestral circles, the Théâtre du Châtelet director Duplessis (François Berléand) thinks nothing of dealing through mobile phones, away from the Bolshoi itself.

And thus begins the ruse to impersonate a world class orchestra—finding a way to cull together a rag-tag bunch of musicians who haven’t played for an audience in decades, acquiring passports and visas in under 24-hours, hoping the gypsy Vassili (violinist Anghel Gheorghe) has enough friends in France to borrow instruments from, and praying the famous Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent, who underwent two months of violin training to prepare)—connected to these people in a way only a few know—will agree to be their soloist. It seems everyone wants to be involved, danger be damned, so the compiling of bodies to fill chairs is no problem, the people they hire, however, is another story. It seems that the want to help their Maestro isn’t the only reason a trip to Paris works, each person involved in this hijacked concert also has an ulterior motive, whether a Russian official’s want to speak at a communist rally, an old Jew and his son looking to hock caviar and cell phones, poor citizens sick of home looking at an opportunity to defect and find employment, or an old fool hoping, in his heart, to tell a young woman the story of her parents and the struggle they underwent to save her.

Interestingly a French production, shot in Romania, I’d estimate three-quarters of the film is spoken in Russian. It does little to hide its thoughts on the censorship of the old Soviet Union—Leonid Brezhnev’s hatred of the Jewish population the reason Filipov and the rest were banished to obscurity, all refusing to play if not alongside their persecuted comrades. The struggle they went through, including Lea, their prize solo violinist in 1980 whose absence at present is a depressing tale left for later but always a heavy void, has the sort of emotional weight to make it hard to describe Le concert as an all-out comedy. The underlining themes and history to those working so hard to pull off this crime of pretending to be the Bolshoi are what make the film so memorable. Past secrets are slowly unearthed, allowing the audience to make assumptions—the easiest of which was surprisingly refreshingly wrong—until all is revealed in a stirring climatic sequence of Tchaikovsky and the touching tale of survival playing out before our eyes. It’s a scene that erupts in emotion, the slow burn of understanding hidden behind big laughs finally overtaking us through music and fantastic, silent performances.

Watching Mihaileanu weave together past, present, and future during the full-length rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin is both breathtaking and heartwrenching. We see the black and white past opportunity for perfect harmony, the current concert conducted with the same baton used thirty years previous—now taped back together—and the future of what will come. A flood of emotion hits the entire orchestra, but it is in the faces of Guskov, Laurent, Nazarov, and Miou-Miou, (playing Guylène, Jacquet’s guardian and manager), realizing what it is they are accomplishing. Through all the zaniness, whether a gunfight at a Russian mafia wedding, a hack cellist (Vlad Ivanov) made beneficiary looking to film his ‘greatness’, or a hilarious airport scene complete with do-it-yourself passport production, we never lose sight of the compassionate need of a win. These people have fought tooth and nail, watched friends and family exile to Israel during the Cold War, and had dreams fade away when achievement was so close. In the end, it all becomes a love letter to the one who lost the most, a young woman Filipov brought into his delusions of perfection, and a Jew sent off to Siberia, the miming of a violin her only solace.

[1] Melanie Laurent in The Concert. Photo by: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company, 2010
[2] Alexei Guskov as Filipov finding a moment of harmony
[3] Dimitri Nazarov as Sasha staying humble and in practice

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