Directed by Radu Mihăileanu
Starring Aleksei Guskov, Mélanie Laurent, Dmitri Nazarov, Miou-Miou and more
On Midsummer Eve, I was walking through a park in Brooklyn with some friends on our way to get some artisanal ice cream. As we neared the park’s exit, the unmistakable sound of a piano wafted towards us in the summer air.
There at the crux of two paths stood an upright piano, and a bushy-haired hipster was coaxing out a very familiar classical tune. No, not Für Elise or the Moonlight Sonata, but Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat (or Op.9 No.2 for the musical geeks). A crowd had formed, and everyone applauded with verve as the final notes died away, the pianist acknowledging the applause briefly before melting back into the crowd. A friend who was visiting from L.A. said later that it had been the fourth time that day he had encountered spontaneous music that day coming from people who weren’t busking.
It’s that idea of making music for the pure joy of making music or the beauty of it that permeates every frame within Le Concert, and I’m afraid that if you don’t understand that, you’re definitely not going to understand or like this movie.
This isn’t to say that only classical music geeks will understand or like this movie. I loved this, and as I’ve mentioned before, the only musical training I’ve ever had is a few 300-level courses as my commuter university over a decade ago. I will say, though, that having maybe just a bit of that knowledge in your background somewhere will definitely help.
Our protagonist is Andreï Filipov (Aleksei Guskov), a former conductor for the Bolshoi Ballet’s orchestra whom after a very humiliating experience at the hands of a Communist Party leader, is forced to endure work as its janitor 30 years later. However, after shamelessly prying into his boss’ fax communications, he gets the wild idea to gather up his old musicians to play one last hurrah at the Théâtre du Châtelet along side a French virtuoso named Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent, who was last seen as Shoshanna in Inglorious Basterds) with whom he shares a mysterious connection.
There are several things this movie gets right. As a heist film—because they’re stealing the concert away from the real Bolshoi Orchestra—it works because you get to watch the formation of the team and learn what quirky talents they’ll bring to the endeavor. As a music film, it works because there are some scenes here and there where it’s just all about the philosophy behind the art of music. Guskov is so believable in his love of the art that it’s hard not to stand up and shout, “Yes, yes!” as he gives this unforgettable monologue before the climax of the movie. Also, kudos to Guskov and Laurent for all of the non-verbal acting they had to do while the central mystery was revealed in a montage/monologue with a Tchaikovsky concerto playing in the background. Sadly, I’m not musically geeky enough to tell you whether or not any of the music in the climactic scene is any good, but it’s my hope that it is.
As a French farcical comedy, it works because of fantastic performances by the supporting cast, especially Dmitri Nazarov as the the put-upon best friend, Valeriy Barinov as their former manager (who incidentally was the one who doled out the humiliation), and Anna Kamenkova as Andrei’s wife, a crowd-wrangler who gets paid to bring people to political rallies, weddings, and funerals. Special recognition goes to Kamenkova and Guskov for portraying such a wonderful loving married couple as well. Also, as long as I’m handing out kudos, I have to give several to Romanian writer/director Radu Mihaileanu who along with screenwriters Alain-Michel Blanc and Matthew Robbins and original story writers Thierry Degrandi and Hector Cabello Reyes crafted an engaging plot that definitely had its fair share of twists and unexpected turns.
If there are any areas where I did feel uncomfortable about the movie, it was during the scenes where two of the people in the trumpet section skip out on rehearsal to try and make some extra money selling Russian caviar to French bistro chefs. Yes, they’re Jewish and trying to make a buck. Also, there are a few scenes which take place in Gypsy camps where the stereotypes of them being completely uncouth and unethical get played out, mostly for laughs. I’m not sure how to feel about those scenes, though, as two of Mihailenau’s previous films have dealt with an Ethiopian boy who gets sent to Israel as a Jew by his mother in the search for a better life (Live and Become) and the attempt by a group of Jews in a French village to escape a coming Nazi invasion (Train of Life), and it’s not my place to say if it’s prejudicial because I am neither Jewish or a Gypsy. (If it helps, both movies were well reviewed.)
For all their efforts, Le Concert picked up a Cesar Award in 2010 for Best Sound and Armand Amar picked one up for Best Music Written for a Film, which says to me that the committee in charge of submitting French films for Academy Awards consideration won’t be putting it’s hat into the ring with the more acclaimed A Prophet winning all the awards. Still, if you’re in the mood for a movie about music that’s less sappy than August Rush, you really ought to buy a ticket for Le Concert.
Unrated at the time of this publication, Le Concert is going into limited release in the U.S. on July 23, courtesy of the people at The Weinstein Company always wants to remind you that they’re the guys who unleashed Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith onto the world, dammit, which means we really know our movies—now would someone help us get out of debt, please?