Aleksei Guskov is one of the most popular Russian movie actors, having starred, according to the French press release of The Concert in more than 70 films. Mélanie Laurent, the violinist, we remember from her part in Inglorious Basterds. These two, and a number of French actors better known in France and of Russian ones presumably better known in Russia pull together, barely, the film The Concert out in Paris this week. Radu Mihaileanu who became known to filmgoers through his moving and original Live and Become (2005) directs.
The story is that of Andreï Filipov, a legendary Brejnev era conductor, relegated to sweeping the Bolshoi theater floors for having had too many Jews in his orchestra way back when (never mind that the maestro would have been far too young to have attained worldwide recognition thirty years earlier—Guskov, the actor, was actually born in 1958!)
When Filipov sees a fax inviting the famed orchestra to perform at the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet, he decides to pass himself off as the conductor, gathers his former musicians, now ambulance drivers, gipsy fiddlers, garage mechanics, sausage flippers etc., and through a complicated scheme (that he pulls off, such is the magic of cinema!) manages to present this ragtag group as the authentic Bolshoi symphony orchestra. Slapstick, too many exaggerations and too much agitation, some wicked stereotyping and more than a couple of grotesque scenes mar the ensemble and try viewer patience.
For example, imagine some sixty elderly out-of-work Russian musicians storming Moscow airport with fake passports or trying, pre-concert, with much yelling and pushing and shoving, to wrest their fee out of a reluctant assistant, and you’ll have some idea of the totally unnecessary antics that recur with distressing frequency. Yet the “ultimate harmony” that Filipov strives for happens, beautifully, in the superb last half-hour, a piece of silver screen anthology. The maestro, accompanied by violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet played by Laurent (you’ll have to find out for yourself the rather important side narrative here) conducts his orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s 35th concerto. Trust me, the moment is transcendent. If it doesn’t make up for the film’s failures, it definitely puts it on your list of must-sees.