Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Radu Mihaileanu

Cast: Aleksei Guskov, Dmitri Nazarov, Mélanie Laurent, Valeriy Barinov, François Berléand

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and some sexual content)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 7/30/10 (limited); 8/6/10 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 5, 2010

The past weighs heavily upon the characters in The Concert. Most of them have not been able to move on from it, and one character has yet to learn how much it affects her life in the present. This is neither good nor bad for them; it is simply how they are compelled to live.

They set out to reclaim a former glory, forced to recall at almost every turn what a failure or sham that glory turned out to be. It is not through any fault of their own, but that sort of logic is impossible to convey to a person living in the kind of guilt or denial with which these folks live.

At the center is Andreï Filipov (Aleksei Guskov). He was once a major orchestra conductor and is now the janitor at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. When he should be working, he stands in the balcony, waving his arms in time and criticizing the current orchestra. After a scolding, he begins clean the director's office, only to come across a fax from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, inviting the Bolshoi's orchestra for a concert. He steals the invite.

This is his chance, he argues to his old friend Sacha (Dmitri Nazarov), who played in Andreï's ensemble and now drives an ambulance. Andreï's wife (Anna Kamenkova Pavlova) threatens to divorce him if he doesn't take advantage of the opportunity.

This means impersonating the Bolshoi, and for such a scheme to work, he recruits Ivan Gavrilov (Valeriy Barinov), a former KGB agent, current Communist Party booster, and the man single-handedly responsible for wrecking Andreï's rising career 30 years ago. Gavrilov walked on stage in the middle of the orchestra's performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, grabbed the "maestro's" baton, and snapped it in twain. Andreï still has the broken baton, and Sacha still holds a grudge.

Writer/director Radu Mihaileanu's script starts a comedy of people in over their head and out of their element. Gavrilov has experience as a manager and speaks the best (broken) French of the group, but he is obsessed with the details. He haggles their pay so low that the Châtelet's director (François Berléand) points out to the board of directors that even with Gavrilov's other demands, the "Bolshoi" is still less expensive than their original, American selection. His other demands include: a daily stipend, rooms at a fancy hotel ("Three stars," he exclaims to an unimpressed Andreï and Sacha), a cruise on the Seine, and dinner at a specific restaurant. The plan almost crumbles when the Châtelet cannot find the diner in question.

Andreï's old musicians have since moved on. They have regular jobs. Some sold their instruments long ago to pay bills. Most of them no longer have the formal wear and shoes in which to perform. Gavrilov knows some people in the black market for those sorts of things, and a gangster to fund their travel. This but Gavrilov can't even reliably schedule a bus to the airport. Luggage in tow, the orchestra hikes it the distance from the bus stop to the airport.

Upon arrival, of course, they are the fish out of water. The Châtelet's representative doesn't recognize them as professional musician (He cannot be blamed). The motley crew wanders the streets of Paris with money they extort out of the theater's envoy, drinking and laughing the whole way.  There's little question of whether or not they'll appear for their first and only rehearsal.

The introduction of the orchestra brings with it a slew of nameless, faceless characters, whose purpose as a generalized vision of recapturing a bygone time is clear, but Mihaileanu is more content to treat them as a joke.

The movie starts to come into its own when it focuses on the melodramatic tie between Andreï and star violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent), whom Andreï has requested act as the soloist for the piece.  Both are great admirers of the other's work, although Andreï has an ulterior motive for requesting her. There is a dinner scene between the two that transcends the broken and simple language one has to use and the other employs out of respect.

After all the comic setup of the fraudulent ensemble, it amounts to a few phrases of harmonic discord during the climactic performance. Even the story of how Anne-Marie accounts into Andreï's professional embarrassment for the sake of a moral victory means little on its own.

Then The Concert lets the music speak for them all. The past, present, and future of these characters weave together, and everyone intrinsically senses all of this having happened, happening, and about to happen. It is a victorious moment for them, and a sequence of such genuine, forceful feeling that it very nearly redeems the movie's previous mishandling of characters and missteps in tone.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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