The Concert

The Concert


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Meet Andrei (Aleksei Guskov). Like many people, he loves music, but for him it has a deeper meaning - it was once the sole focus of his life, as he was acclaimed one of the greatest conductors of his age. But that was under Brezhnev, where men like him, who refused to put politics first, were never destined to prosper. Now it's 30 years later and little has changed, except that the grand buildings are gradually falling into decay. Andrei is still under the thumb of the people who mistreated him back then. He works as a cleaner in the Bolshoi, his only chance to get close to the orchestra he loves, though he has a few issues with their level of musical skill. One day when he's alone in the boss' office, a fax comes through from Paris. They want the Bolshoi to perform a short-notice concert. Andrei wastes no time in concealing it and rushing to tell his old friends his plan - they will impersonate the official orchestra and play the concert of their lives.

This may sound like a pretty routine set-up for a farce, and indeed there are elements of the story which develop exactly as you'd predict - the unreliable musicians, the problems caused by lack of money, Andrei's attacks of nerves, the old grudges, the inevitable last-minute discovery of the scheme - but there's also a lot more to it. Throughout, the farcical elements are developed with an unusual gentleness, the film's sympathies well balanced, some affection present even for the most unpleasant characters. There are numerous subplots, most prominently the truth behind Andrei's obsession with a brilliant young violin soloist called Anne-Marie (Mélanie Laurent), not all of which work out the way you'd expect. Other elements, like Andrei's alcoholism, are carefully downplayed, as are the horrors he faced under the old regime - it's sadness, rather than anger, that emerges, yet more than anything a willingness to find beauty in life despite it all. And central to that beauty is Tchaikovsky.

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In recent years Tchaikovsky's music has increasingly been dismissed as old-fashioned and irrelevant, interesting in its time but now with little left to say. Intercutting it brilliantly with Armand Amar's inspired original score, both elevated by fantastic musicians, The Concert really brings it back to life. It's giving away little to say that the film ends with a musical performance, but if you're not a classical music fan you may be surprised by how powerfully it affects you, in combination with the work of Guskov and Laurent, acting without dialogue. The music becomes their language, though it's never quite clear where Tchaikovsky gives them a voice or whether they are consumed by that voice, performing and living for the sake of something else. Are they inspired, or are they mad? In order to achieve something so powerful, must they inevitably expose themselves to danger?

Much of this film is about language; there's the music itself, and Russian, and French, and humour to be found in common homonyms and idiom which the subtitles struggle to translate fully. The cultural differences between the two countries are astutely invoked and the script is confident and witty in both contexts. The film deftly avoids pretension by counterpointing all its creative talent with a sort of general rubbishness about people and places that's deeply endearing. There's also a great supporting cast. Valeriy Barinov stands out as the surly manager and former KGB agent who cannot let go of the Communist dream, though he might have forgotten why it mattered. Anna Kamenkova is alternately charming and formidable as Andrei's wife, who supports him through her work finding 'extras' to make up the numbers at everything from Communist party rallies to mobsters' soirées, and French icon Miou-Miou (who herself found her route to stardom by starting as cleaner) turns in a nuanced performance as Anne-Marie's manager. Though centered on Andrei it is, like a concert, dependent on the full ensemble, on everyone hitting the right notes with impeccable timing. Andrei dreams of achieving what he calls 'perfect harmony'. With The Concert, director Mihaileanu has come remarkably close.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2010
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A Russian conductor sacked under the old regime turns the tables with a scheme to impersonate the Bolshoi orchestra at one fabulous Paris concert.
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Director: Radu Mihaileanu

Writer: Radu Mihaileanu,

Starring: Aleksei Guskov, Dmitri Nazarov, Mélanie Laurent, François Berléand, Miou-Miou, Valeriy Barinov, Anna Kamenkova, Lionel Abelanski, Aleksandr Komissarov

Year: 2009

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France, Italy, Romania, Belgium, Russia


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