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Mélanie Laurent in THE CONCERT (Photo: Weinstein Company)

Directed by
Radu Mihaileanu
Produced by
Alain Attal
Written by Mihaileanu, Alan-Michel Blanc and Matthew Robbins, based on a story by Hector Cabello Reyes and Thierry Degrandi
Released by the Weinstein Company
French & Russian with English subtitles
France/Italy/Romania/Belgium/Russia. 107 min. Rated PG-13
Alexei Guskov, Dmitry Nazarov, Mélanie Laurent, François Berleand, Miou Miou & Valieri Barinov 

I don’t think I’m revealing too much by mentioning that the feel-good climax of the French box-office hit The Concert takes place during a performance in a concert hall, the Parisian jewel box Théâtre du Châtelet. What I remember most, more than the music of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, is the avalanche of reaction shots of the film’s audience, running the gamut from stunned admiration to wonderment to a downpour of tears. The only holdout is the dour, priggish critic (guilty as charged). By The Concert’s end, you will have been tugged and pulled every which way by the script’s clumsy orchestrations. You’ll feel violated, and not in a good way.

But first, the viewer has to get past one improbability after another. Andrei, a 50-something janitor at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre (which will need better PR after this), is banished from further eavesdropping on orchestral rehearsals. He’ll get his revenge, though. While cleaning the head honcho’s palatial office, he notices a fax fresh off the press from Paris with an offer for the Bolshoi Orchestra to fill an immediate engagement in two weeks. Andrei immediately calls his wingman to round up their old colleagues to impersonate the Bolshoi and finally redeem themselves professionally. Andrei reasons, anyone would sound better than the real thing.

However, Andrea is no amateur. In a black-and-white flashback, a KGB apparatchik interrupts Andrea, then a star conductor, in mid-performance—if you’ve guest during a rendition of the Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, you can fill in the rest. The functionary grabs Andrei’s baton and snaps it in two, denouncing him as an enemy of the people. Andrei faces little difficulty in gaining the support of his former players. He stood by them once, and now they return the favor; he resisted purging his orchestra of its Jewish players during the Brezhnev years, the actual reason for his fall from grace.

For the last three decades, Andrea and his fellow musicians have been blacklisted. But their back story of persecution wafts in the background while Andrei sheepishly works with his one-time denouncer, who has some connections in Paris, to find 55 musicians, instruments, and sponsorship, all without one rehearsal in 30 years. Luckily, no one in the French press has noticed the so-called Bolshoi’s impending arrival to bother contacting the orchestra’s management.

In the opening scene, a conductor advices his musicians to be careful of balance while playing the score. If only director Radu Milhaileanu had followed suit. Far from harmonious, the boisterous three-ring circus of the counterfeit Russian orchestra overwhelms the film, especially the sensitive work of actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) as the French violinist superstar, and the film’s voice of sanity, who agrees to perform with Andrei based on his pre-Perestroika reputation. There are some amusing sharp notes—the Communist Party hasn’t faded away, it just covets bling, joining the new oligarchs in a contest for who can act more boorish. But the film slavishly trades on ethnic stereotypes from the mild, Russians stewed in vodka, to the wince-producing, the ever-resourceful merry band of Gypsies. Whatever you need, they’ll find it or make it, including openly forging passports in an airport lobby. Of course, when they make an entrance, it’s with the entire family in tow, dancing and making music. One cliché, though, has been replaced by another. Those heavy-set pasty blonds waddling through Paris with cameras? They’re now nouveau riche Russians. Kent Turner
July 30, 2010



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