Providing a fresh take on the underdog story, Radu Mihaileanu’s The Concert (2009) tells the tale of one musician’s determination to conduct Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, a feat that was interrupted mercilessly thirty years before.
Falling from grace after being stopped short mid-performance due to his affiliation with Jews in communist Russia, famed conductor Andrei Filipov (Aleksey Guskov) happens upon the chance of a lifetime when cleaning the office of the establishment he once dominated.
Having won two prestigious awards for its soundtrack at the French César Awards, The Concert – a French production based primarily in Russia – relies heavily on its music. Whilst Tchaikovsky dominates, the soundtrack itself offers a diverse backdrop on which the characters develop. After intercepting a fax requesting the presence of the Bolshoi orchestra at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Andrei sets about regrouping the orchestra he headed three decades before to pose as the famous orchestra. Having disbanded after a catastrophic performance in which Andrei was publicly humiliated for not getting rid of the Jewish musicians in his orchestra, many of those he calls upon have sought alternate sources of income and are reluctant to get involved. Overcoming numerous mishaps, the orchestra arrive in Paris two weeks later with each member carrying their own ulterior motive for attending, including Andrei himself.
It may be billed as a comedy but The Concert seems to unknowingly fight against such generic labelling. Although Sasha (Dmitri Nazarov) fills the stereotypical goofy role adequately, most of the film’s gags feel unnecessary and intrusive. Although some comic scenes add to the film’s journey toward overall harmony (most notably when the orchestra make a pilgrimage-like to walk to the airport), the shambolic appearance of the orchestra falls somewhere between comedic and saddening, making for confusing viewing. Fortunately Andrei’s enigmatic character saves the film.
When the audience first sees Andrei he is doing what he does best; absorbed in the apparent conduction of a beautiful musical piece, he appears at peace. Seconds later it is revealed that he has been reduced to completing janitorial tasks around the Bolshoi’s building, the reasoning behind this demotion being left to slowly unravel. In discovering his past the audience find themselves caught up in the mysterious nature of a man consumed by his passion for music. His determination for and devotion to his craft slowly shines through and is, admittedly, slightly terrifying. His relationship with the orchestra’s soloist (Anne-Marie Jacquet, played by Mélanie Laurent, who suffers from a crisis of identity herself, longing for parental acceptance) adds to his enigma and reveals itself gradually, making for truly compelling viewing.
Offering a hugely more compelling storyline than the poorer comic strands present in the film, Andrei’s self-professed ‘selfish’ and fervent quest for harmony is all-consuming. Tellingly, Anne-Marie suggests that the concert isn’t psychotherapy in which he can cure his love-affair with Tchaikovsky. Andrei’s depth is one of the film’s key strengths and due to his depth the film sometimes feels like it has been based on a true story (Andrei’s character himself being based loosely on Evgeny Scetlanov).
Despite Andrei’s absorbing story, it is undoubtedly the concert itself that is the film’s true protagonist, as well as its namesake. Itself the sole cause for the bedlam that precedes it, the concert somehow intertwines the music that captivates its orchestra as well as the communist struggles experienced by eastern Europe. In the last moments of the film the orchestra discovers whether it can recapture the brilliance it almost captured thirty years before. In the beautiful pandemonium the film loses its coherence and possible outcomes of the performance flash up on-screen. Whether these flashes are indicative of what happened after the concert or merely a depiction of the harmonious nirvana aimed for my Andrei himself is unclear, the chaotic finale instead being solely indicative of the fever that takes hold of Andrei when playing Tchaikovsky.
At its heart, The Concert presents some fascinating fundamental beliefs on morality. There are some questionable logical oversights in the film (the most dominant being the fact that the real Bolshoi are not aware that they are supposedly playing a huge global event whilst the strange murderous wedding attended by various members of Andrei’s orchestra seems to be a strange vehicle to further the poorer comic side of the film), but they fortunately do not spoil the fascinating underlying pursuit of regaining pride and achieving harmony both with oneself and music.