Rating: 2.5 out of 5
There is a moment in Romanian-born French director Radu Mihaileanu’s Le Concert (The Concert) when a gypsy violinist serenades a gifted soloist played by Melanie Laurent.
She is disdainful at first, before her eyes sparkle with amazement at the gypsy’s increasingly frantic, yet accomplished, playing. He is revealed to know little about music, and never to have been trained.
There is another moment, when an assembled group of hitherto retired/disenfranchised Russian musicians, posing as an orchestra from the famed Bolshoi, commence playing – unrehearsed – and aided by their guest soloist (Laurent) perform a hugely and unexpectedly impressive concert.
Films like this depend on the root-for-the-underdog element, an eye-opening 'wow' factor and usually involve the bringing together of misfits or unusual talents, as seen in the 2004 French drama Les choristes (The Chorus) and the 2003 Jack Black comedy, School of Rock.
The Concert aims to be both funny and touching, with the comedy rooted in the storyline of a disgraced maestro (Aleksei Guskov) and his bombastic cellist friend (Dimitri Nazarov) plotting for one final great concert after having been disbanded years ago by an oppressive state government.
They do whatever necessary, even roping in an undesirable ally in the former state official who had shut them down (Valeriy Barinov), who has his own agenda in helping the ragtag bunch stage a grand concert in Paris under the guise of the Bolshoi’s best musicians.
However, the comic elements of this film may fly over the head of audiences. There are many frenzied outbursts (spoken in Russian, dubbed in French, or in broken French as attempted by some Russian characters) and slapstick scenes of exaggerated anger or self-loathing.
There also is the boorish behaviour of the Russians when they descend upon Paris, shocking their gentile hosts, one of whom dismisses this as a holdover from more turbulent times and regimes.
Perhaps to a French-speaking European audience, this might be amusing. (For your information, the film garnered two Cesars – the French ‘Oscars’ – out of six nominations.)
For this reviewer, the humour did not really work, although Francois Berleand is rather a hoot as the highly strung French theatre director who is pulling his hair out dealing with his difficult guests. Dramatic elements were similarly flawed, for there is little subtlety in how a traumatic past event, linked to the abrupt shutting-down of the orchestra, that involves the orphaned French soloist.
While the film can be considered quite slick – perhaps too slick? – and features two notable stars in the talented and beautiful Laurent, last seen as a vengeful cinema owner in Inglourious Basterds, and veteran French actress Miou Miou, its great music doesn’t redeem its rough spots.
As the version of the film screened in Singapore is the French version, several moments of the film, including its opening scenes, can seem confusing and jarring, as the Russian characters have obviously been dubbed French while speaking their native language.
If you can stomach the somewhat over-the-top comedy and drama, the musical moments do impress and may prove worthwhile for some. However, if you wanted alternatives, one would suggest renting Les Choristes for marvellous choral singing and School of Rock for a little bit of pre-pubescent rock and roll.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in!"
– Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part III