The Concert


Review by Willard Manus

Mixing slapstick, social consciousness and a yank or two on the heartstrings, THE CONCERT might very well find popular success on the art-film circuit this summer. Written and directed by Radu ("Live and Become") Miahileanu, THE CONCERT stars Alexie Gustov and Melanie Laurent, the coolly beautiful French actress who brings to mind the young Catherine Deneuve. Laurent was seen to good effect last year in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds.
Gustav plays Andrei Filipov, a once-famous conductor with the Bolshoi Orchestra who is now reduced to mopping floors for the company. In the last years of the communist state, then-prime minister Leonid Brezhnev ordered him fired him for using Jewish musicians in the orchestra (anti-semitism was rampant at the time).
Andrei takes revenge by intercepting a faxed invitation for the Bolshoi to perform in Paris. He then hatches up a deliciously screwball plot to form his own orchestra to take the Bolshoi's place so that he can make a return to the international music scene. His sidekick and former cello player, the Zero Mostel-like Francois Berleand, tries to dissuade him from following through on the plan, but Andrei is a man possessed. He is desperate to get back at the Bolshoi--and to meet up again in Paris with Anne-Marie Jacquet (Laurent), a violin virtuoso who owns a piece of his heart.
The road to Paris, though, must go through Ivan Gavrilov (Valeria Barinov), an ex-KGB operative who is now general manager of the Bolshoi, having quickly adapted to capitalism and grabbed hold of the company's levers of power (including access to its international fax and phone lines). Alexei knows, though, that like all former Communist Party functionaries, Ivan badly misses the perks that once came with his KGB job--especially the free trips to Paris, with its five-star hotels, fancy restaurants and boat trips up the Seine. How Alexei uses that knowledge to entice and eventually outwit Ivan provides THE CONDUCTOR with much of its humor and bite.
Alexei's next challenge is to locate his former musicians, many of whom have struggled to make an underground living since their Bolshoi days. Most are Jews, some are gypsies, others survive by supplying the scores for porno films. They are a motley crew and Mihaileanu has much fun in bringing them together again. Anti-establishment and irreverent to the core, they fill THE CONCERT with laughter, vibrant music and a healthy disregard for rules and regulations.
Mihaileanu also takes some satirical swipes at today's capitalist Russia, with its greedy oligarchs (one of whom becomes Alexei's sponsor), stupefying pop culture and conspicuous consumption. The director favors broad, brash humor, but because his targets are real and his aim unerring, THE CONCERT comes off as a successful and entertaining film.
It helps that the serious side of the story, the subplot involving the love affair between Anne-Marie Jacquet and Alexei, is dramatized in believable, affecting fashion. It would give away too much to be more specific. Suffice to say, the romantic scenes work well and give THE CONCERT some much-needed depth and humanity.
In France, THE CONCERT received two Cesar Awards in 2010 and was nominated for four additional Cesars, including Best Film, Best Writing and Best Director.