Foreign films can be a bit tricky for an American audience to watch, and The Concert is no exception. The elements in this unbalanced black comedy are in constant discordance, like an orchestra with the violins tuned just sharp of the brass. The cheap drama, low humor, and utterly absurd plot grate against the lovely moments — which are sparingly strewn about.
Our wild ride begins with Andrei Filipov (Alexei Guskov), a once renowned conductor of the Soviet Union’s Bolshoi Orchestra. In the ’80’s , he was deemed an enemy of the state for refusing to fire his Jewish musicians. Now, 3o years later, he works as a lowly custodian for the very concert hall from which he was fired. Of course, this humiliated working-class man will have his revenge! He intercepts a fax while cleaning the head honcho’s office. It is an invitation from the Théâtre du Châtelet in France, begging the Bolshoi to come and play in place of the recently canceled Los Angeles Philharmonic. He decides to round up his former Jewish orchestra, pose as the Bolshoi, insist that his soloist be the celebrated young violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent), and play the concert that they were never able to finish — thanks to the KGB.
This fairy-tale plot leaves plenty of room for embellishment, and that’s exactly what the Romanian director and co-writer, Radu Mihaileanu, does. The subplots go from a little absurd to completely outlandish, though there is an amount of seriousness that the audience is expected to retain. It’s nearly impossible to do so, with outrageous stereotypes including vodka-sloshing Russians, thieving Gypsies, and blustering communists filling the ranks of the old, shunned orchestra. We get to witness these walking clichés storm the streets of France, refuse to practice, take all the money they can get from the Châtelet, and run amok. Every other scene we are drawn into an increasingly tail-spinning subplot, and the layers just keep stacking up until you almost forget where it all began.
Late into the third act we are finally given a fine moment of peace as the madness stops, and Mihaileanu finds his way again. In a series of flashbacks, a tragic back story unfolds from Filipov’s memory, tying up some loose ends and revealing a few revelations. All the while, we are treated to a real-time performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto over it all. For the first time, many of the actors are believable, though it’s not for their dialog, but for their ability to mimic musicians. While the third act was nicely done, it was just too little too late to deem the rest of The Concert worth watching.
While many of the actors were seemingly chosen for their ability to be relentlessly annoying, Mélanie Laurent was simply lovely. She had a radiant screen presence among an otherwise ramshackle assemblage, and unfortunately the movie relies almost solely on her to deliver the tear-jerking payoff. She did the best she could with what she had to work with, and did it well.
This is one Concert that feels more like an unruly circus where the elephants get loose and the lions are stuffed. The harder the circus tries to impress you, the more you want a refund.
I give The Concert 2 “clichés”out of 5.