Such a terrific standard has been set so far with the Foreign Favourites series, and we are lucky enough to have it extended with an impressive entry by the funky Theflimculb. If you’re not already familiar with her site, do pop on over. She has the latest films reviewed in a neat style, has set up a literary spin-off site called The Book Gloop and is a big Beatles fan. No excuses, people.
In 2009 Romanian born director and writer Radu Mihaileanu (The Train, Live and Become) offered up his homage to Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in the form of Le Concert. The film is set is both Moscow and Paris and features Russian and French spoken language.
Le Concert is the story of Andrei Filipov (Alexei Guskov), a once renowned, now disgraced conductor, who, in his role as cleaner at the Bolshoi Theatre, intercepts an invitation for the celebrated Bolshoi orchestra to perform a one-off concert at the Chatalet Theatre, Paris. Unable to ignore a crazed idea that has taken residence in his mind, Andrei – at the encouragement of his chain smoking and adoring wife (Anna Kamenkova) – sets about rounding up his former orchestra. With the re-assembled musicians collected from a variety of down-and-out situations and depraved occupations across the city, Andrei intends to imitate the real Bolshoi orchestra and perform the one piece that was denied him some 30 years earlier when he was humiliated on stage by the KGB. But that’s not all, Andrei has a request for the Chatalet director; the orchestra will not perform unless accompanied by French violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Melanie Laurent, you may know her as ‘the face of Jewish vengeance’ in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds). As the film progresses, spotlights appear over several backstories; it becomes clear why Andrei was dismissed, and also why he so fervently requires the accompaniment of Anne-Marie.
Despite its classical music focus and bilingual dialogue, Le Concert, is far from highbrow. It is, in essence, a good, old-fashioned farcical comedy. At the time of its release the film was treated harshly by critics who claimed it was too full of unlikely happenings (a frankly ludicrous reason to dislike a film). Yes, there are moments when viewers must loosen their grips on reality. In one scene, the orchestra members queue up in Moscow airport to collect their forged passports and visas from a merry band of gypsies. Whilst security guards offer a cursory glance their way, no further action is taken. This is not the Russia we see in the current media, but this is a comedy, it’s OK for it to stretch the realms of possibility. For the most part, Le Concert, is a raucous and vodka-fuelled rampage in Paris. It shamelessly adheres to stereotypes – the drunk and tardy Russians, the straight-faced and serious French – but it does so with warmth and affection.
And Mihaileanu has a trick up his sleeve. For all those watching and rolling their eyes as wrinkled Russians sell caviar from suitcases and the communists raise their red flag to an empty auditorium, Mihaileanu reserves the closing minutes of the film for something different. As the orchestra, in their borrowed suits and ill-fitting shoes, take to the stage for their all-or-nothing deception with Andrei at the helm, Mihaileanu lets the music take over. The solo violin cuts cleanly through the comedy, the concerto builds to a crescendo leaving all the rough-and-ready clowning around behind. Here, sentiment takes centre stage, as conductor and violinist lead the orchestra through one of Tchaikovsky’s finest. Time slips backward, shifting to thirty years earlier, and we see Andrei as he once was, and Anne-Marie’s story (told with the aid of a regrettably dicey looking wig) is brought to a close. The final moments are powerful and they linger for some time after the credits roll.
Overall: Le Concert has its flaws, I admit. It does require its audience to let go of expectations and perhaps not take life too seriously for a while. But it also has a heart, it tells a story, and, if nothing else, it showcases a piece of music that I challenge anyone not to fall in love with.
One of the reasons I set up the series was to discover new and exciting films so my thanks again to Theflimculb. I’ve never heard of Le Concert before but am very curious after such an intriguing premise and positive write-up.