Le Concert is The Lives of Others as seen through the feel-good filter of Mr. Holland’s Opus — a struggle of creativity against oppression with less of the downbeat death, despair or disillusionment, more of the merrily made music that touchingly triumphs over adversity.
Romanian filmmaker Radu Mihăileanu’s film is unabashedly, but gently and vivaciously, sentimental. This Russian / French production’s universally understandable language of farce minimizes its mawkishness, occasional stereotyping or an overstayed welcome with a few superfluous characters.
Once the world-renowned conductor of Russia’s Bolshoi orchestra, Andreï Filipov (Aleksei Guskov) saw his baton snapped and reputation ruined in the early 1980s. Persecuted for hiring Jewish musicians under Leonid Brezhnev’s rule, Filipov was embarrassingly terminated from his job midway through a performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.
Filipov remains with the Bolshoi … as its custodian. Soon, by way of a scam, he stumbles upon an opportunity to restore his confidence and resume his rightful place. When Filipov intercepts a French fax inviting the Bolshoi to play at Paris’s Chatelet Theatre, he plots to round up his former musicians, imitate the Bolshoi and remount Tchaikovsky’s concerto.
His wife doesn’t harangue him about dusting off this dream; in fact, she says she’ll divorce him if he doesn’t go through with the deception. It’s just the first scene (followed later by a discomforting drunken tell-all) during which Guskov’s frittery, nervous body language suggests affecting depths of Filipov’s humiliation, with a touch of self-destructive madness that’s never off-putting.
Assisted by Sacha (Dmitri Nazarov), a cellist who strangely resembles wrestler Lou Albano, Fliipov rounds up laugh-out-loud, motley-crew musicians — including gypsy violinists, porn-accompanying woodwinds and a cellist whose generous sponsorship outweighs his god-awful technique.
Filipov finds an unexpected ally in Gavrilov (Valery Barinov), the Communist hardliner who publicly sacked Filipov but who has fallen on ideologically tough times and arranges this ragtag ensemble’s flight to France.
It’s the other wrinkle to Filipov’s scam that fulfills much of Le Concert‘s emotional component — a demand for virtuoso violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds) to play the strenuous solo.
She’s one last piece of a mysterious pact Filipov and Sasha made long ago — one that dovetails with Anne-Marie’s self-imposed restrictions on her repertoire and a sense that she knows the music’s fingerings and dynamics, but not its feeling.
Le Concert draws unexpected laughs from the hidden details of orchestra music that patrons don’t often consider — securing visas, courting sponsors, unsavory patrons and, in general, all the placating that must precede the making of beautiful music.
Mihaileanu brings everything to a head during a climactic setpiece of superbly timed emotional suspense set to Tchaikovsky’s concerto.
There, Filipov’s actively reliving a nightmare that’s haunted him for 30 years — one eye on the score, the other scanning for those who’d foil him again — and he cannot surpass this anxiety until passing a certain point in the music.
Meanwhile, Anne-Marie fully, and finally, flirts with true emotional connection in a moment that’s all the more joyous for how Laurent effectively bottles the character up for the rest of the film. (To boot, Laurent’s violin mimicry is spot-on sensational.)
Foreign musicians have often found that their nations’ political ideologies negatively trump the clout of their name or the popularity of their art — a deep, historical irony given the numerous canonical treasures to come from such countries.
Although accused of contorting history, Le Concert concerns a topic rarely depicted in any film, let alone one so exuberant and warm.