A quaint dramady that manages to lift the heart and warm the soul but never quite manages to fine-tune the two together.
The balancing act of two such different tones as comedy and drama is
one that cinema has always made a sterling effort in achieving. Billy Wilder was a master of it with films like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Woody Allen, up to a point, certainly found his niche with the likes of Manhattan (1979) and Annie Hall (1977). The Concert does not measure up to any of these films but, and crucial to enjoying it, when it is funny it is laugh out loud and when it is drama it melts your heart.
Andrey Fillipov (Guskov) was once a great conductor with
Russia’s premier orchestra under his guidance. But when he was ordered
to fire all of his Jewish musicians he refused and was promptly
dismissed. He now cleans for the Bolshoi orchestra. One day he
intercepts a fax from the Chatelet Theatre in Paris asking the orchestra
to come and perform. Deciding to take matters in hand he recruits his
best friend, and cello player, Sasha (Nazarov) in order to help
them track down and put back together all those musicians that he led
all those years ago. His insistence that renowned violinist Anne-Marie
Jacquet (Laurent) play the solo part raises questions but she finds herself drawn to the mismatch band of players.
Plot wise The Concert is reminiscent of other musical reforming acts. It
presents the ‘getting the band back together’ frolics of The Blues
Brothers (1980) with the cultural nuance of Brassed Off (1996).
While Sasha’s ambulance makes for a fun substitute for the Blues Mobile,
the heartfelt drama centring on Anne-Marie’s parents lends itself to
the political undertones of the formally communist Russia that oppressed
these talented musicians and forced them into Gulags.
Writer director Radu Mihaileanu paints the characters with fairly
broad strokes, creating an almost stereotypical sense in almost all
involved. But he manages to inject them with an infectious amount of
love. There is great comradery between Andrey and Sasha, which is
always fun to witness as they tease and bully each other, like a
bickering old couple. His camera sweeps between his characters with a
fluid orchestration of events.
The film suffers slightly from over the top moments that either force
the sentiment or try to coerce the laughs. At one point the group try
to recruit an oil baron to sponsor them only to be caught up in a
surreal shoot-out at a concert, it fails to generate a laugh but manages
to raise an eyebrow as to the logic of such an event. On the flip side
though some of the humorous moments resonate. A team of Russian gypsies forging passports for the orchestra at the airport rings a wry smile as to its potential accuracy.
Though the characters are never fully fleshed out they are brought to cartoonish life through some fun performances.
Guskov gives Andrey just enough insecurities to keep him from becoming
too clichéd. Nazarov, as the bear like Sasha, is endlessly loveable with
his delicate manners in his vast frame. Much of the two leads best
moments are sparing with orchestra manager, Ivan, played with John
Cleese levels of strict grumpiness by a delightfully stuffy Valeriy Barinov.
His character is slightly overlooked come the climax but he is
nonetheless a comedic highlight. On the drama end of the scale Melanie
Laurent, off the back of her much under valued role in Taratino’s Inglorious Basterds
(2009), is endlessly mesmerising. As the talented violinist Anne-Marie
she is never really given a chance to shine and yet she remains the most
captivating presence on screen throughout the film. Able to project a
confidence underlined with a desperate insecurity, she is an actress who
utilises her most natural talent, her eyes, to stunning effect. They
are never anything less from hugely expressive. If Laurent does not shoot to super stardom then frankly there is something wrong with the world.
The first act is a jolly little tune, the middle suffers from some
staccato moments but the end is a brilliantly uplifting crescendo. The
concert might not offer anything you have not seen before but it manages
to do so with genuine warmth and enough moments of frivolity to keep
you dancing to the same tune.