The Concert is a movie that I have several issues with, but it’s also a certain kind of movie: one that works to such an explosive finale that practically all is forgiven.
That one has condescended to forgive the movie, however, does not mean that it its flaws can or should be overlooked.
Andrei Fillipov (Aleksei Guskov) used to be the Maestro, the finest conductor in the Bolshoi. Alas, he was named an enemy of the people and demoted to janitor. Thirty years later, he hijacks his boss’ fax machine and accepts an invitation to perform at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Naturally, he has to get the orchestra back together … And to enlist the violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Inglourious Basterds’ Mélanie Laurent) to perform the all-important solo in his Tchaikovsky recital.
The trailer for The Concert didn’t quite strike the right note, trying too clumsily to balance the comedy and the drama of the film. I was still interested in seeing it, and I was rewarded to a degree.
The Concert is French, not Russian, and as such is quite critical of Russia. Much of this is fair and even handed, but quite a bit of it has led to a movie that I am entirely too “politically correct” for. By the time the orchestra reaches Paris they have transformed into caricatures: drunken roustabout Russkies out for a good time and nothing else (and they have a lot of good times in a ridiculously short time frame). All throughout the movie, gypsies (or “Romany”, if you prefer) are presented in an intensely stereotypical way, if not an overtly offensive one.
Worst of all, though, is the representation of the Jewish father and son duo. For a movie about an orchestra that was disbanded for refusing to kowtow to the anti-semitism of Brezhnev, it is disquieting to see these two characters using Paris as an excuse to be money hungry con men of dubious morality.
All of this serves the purpose of dramatic tension, because you are not allowed to hear the orchestra play before the titular concert, which in true movie fashion is a transformative and conclusive event. However, I am sure that this “comical duty shirking” comedy could have been handled somewhat more … Sensitively?
As we left the cinema I said to Bryan “Well, I didn’t like the gypsies or the Jews”, then realised how terrible that sounded without contextual grounding.
I placed myself in the position of Hitler, being interviewed about his career many years after retirement, hands atop crossed knees, candidly explaining his reasoning for seizing Germany: “Well, I didn’t like the gypsies or the Jews”.
But it’s true: maybe my bleeding leftist heart is too inured to the “correct” way to make films, but there is something ever so slightly off about the execution of the cultural clashes that are so vital to the film’s running.
The dual language presentation of the film also makes for a very interesting contrast in performances: the scenes in Russia and in Russian can seem loud and very broad, to the point that one scene between KGB operative Gavrilov and cellist Sacha is composed entirely of shouting.
When Andrei and Sacha are in France, talking haltingly to Anne-Marie and her manager, Guyléne, their mode of performance turns earnest, frequently to the point of mawkishness.
The subtitles do a good job of portraying their Russified French in broken English, but one wonders how much common language these people would have in reality – and if the halting earnestness of their words could possibly spur anything but an eye roll if they were used on real people. In the context of the film, the strength of the performances bears enough pathos to make us legitimately care about Filippov and Sacha’s plight. A slightly larger amount of attention could have been paid to Laurent and her character, but she manages admirably. It’s not her fault that she will spend a lot of time in the shadow of Shosanna.
At any rate, The Concert requires a higher than usual level of suspension of disbelief – as do most mistaken identity stories in the Internet age (no one actually bothers to check if Gavrilov is the director of the Bolshoi, and just take him at face value) – but once disbelief is suspended (that is, once you stop trying to care about such things), it’s easy enough to coast along for the ride.
Despite all of these problems, The Concert builds towards what is inevitable in this sort of movie: the show stopping concert finale, which is so emotionally realised that it overshadows the rest of the film to a ridiculous degeree. On the basest level, one understands that music is a powerful tool to manipulate the emotions of the audience (for example, I was angry at being emotionally manipulated by Finding Nemo all those years ago), but that is the point of a movie: the combination of elements into a cohesive whole that makes you feel something.
Not every movie has such noble or lofty ambitions. Indeed, the emotional sting music in The Concert is plainly stupid at times, particularly the stirring notes that indicate a history of alcoholism (seriously).
Yet the finale is an excellent way to finish the movie, pitch perfect and interspersed with expository dialogue and epilogue sequences. This allows the movie to end in the moment while allowing a satisfactory glimpse of what is yet to come. A woman next to me was sniffling for the last forty odd minutes of the film (the previous eighty had been spent saying “oh god” at every instance of a cultural clash), and I was personally in tears for the last fifteen minutes or so. It’s that kind of film.
The Concert is a movie that is occasionally brought down by the broadness of its presentation and the fact that so much of it is beyond credible, yet its slightly charming earnestness and dept of conviction creates enough goodwill as it progresses to delight with the only ending it could possibly ever have.