The Concert review

:. Director: Radu Mihaileanu
:. Starring: Aleksei Guskov, Mélanie Laurent
:. Running Time: 2:02
:. Year: 2009
:. Country: France


Writer/director Radu Mihaileanu's The Concert has all the ingredients to become a European film favorite on the US film circuit. It features a bunch of rogue, middle-class Russian musicians taking on an emblematic communist vestige, the Bolshoi. It also offers a gallery of colorful characters — including Russians, gypsies and a beautiful French violin player (Mélanie Laurent last seen in Inglorious Basterds exterminating the third Reich in a theater) — and it's set in 2 capitals, Moscow and Paris.

And, for a while, if you accept to leave your intellectual rigor at the door, you might find yourself carried away by the improbable story of this orchestra conductor (Aleksei Guskov as Andreï Filipov),) who, 30 years ago, lost everything for having enrolled Jewish musicians. Now working as a janitor for the Bolshoi, he gets the chance to stage his comeback when he steals a fax from a Parisian venue inviting the Bolshoi to come give a performance. From there, he gathers a bunch of old-timers to impersonate the Bolshoi, goes to Paris, gives an odd but stunning performance, conquers the world and makes peace with some ghosts of his past.

Built like an uplifting fairy tale, The Concert certainly succeeds when it comes to communicating its joyful energy to the spectator. It's hard not to root for this colorful bunch of characters that, after having touched bottom, are using every trick possible to make their dream come true. And these energy and likeable characters are also what makes us forgive how predictable this story is — not once, do you doubt about the conclusion of this story and you willingly let Mr. Mihaileanu gently take your hand for a ride.

As a naive comedy, The Concert might work, assuming that your background in Foreign — and most particularly European — cinema is as extended as the art-house film section of a Blockbuster store. Seen from a cinephile perspective, The Concert mostly masters the art of recycling, rehashing themes and scenes that are reminiscent of dozens of Foreign films. At the Q&A following the screening at COLCOA, questioned about the stereotypes omnipresent in this movie, Mr. Mihaileanu stated that pushing them was a great source of jokes. While I agree that, to some extent, some of these scenes were quite amusing, from Russian senior citizens doing voice-over for porn flicks to Gypsies making fake passports at the airport, the film mostly offers us a succession of clichés, which fail at being funny because of their lack of originality — from Russians being drunks, to Jews selling stuff and Gypsies being fun and sneaky, there is nothing we haven't seen before, the joyful mess constantly accompanying these characters being reminiscent of works by Emir Kusturica and Wim Wenders.

And talking about the German filmmaker, during the Q&A, Mr. Mihaileanu also mentioned that the premise of this story was based on a true event, a group of musicians having indeed impersonated the Bolshoi a few years ago. But with its focus on a group of old washed-up musicians making a successful comeback in a foreign city, it is difficult to not see here a transposition of Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club.

Once one realized having somewhat been tricked into liking this film and that its charm has, as a result, considerably diminished, what we are left with, is mostly the recital, which is shot in one long sequence, communicating both the stress and lyricism experienced by the maestro.

  Fred Thom

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