Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Le Concert - a film review

I don't see many films these days, but in the interest of avoiding two and half hours of disturbing angst about extreme protestant puritanism and the origins of fascism in the form of The White Ribbon, I took up the recommendation of a friend (thank you Daniel) and persuaded my father to go to The Concert with me instead.

And if it hasn't finished its season wherever you are, I urge you to go and see it too.

This is a wonderful comedy. 

Most of all though, it is a film with an uplifting sub-text about truth, forgiveness, redemption and the true bonds of community.

Ironically the most culturally catholic film I've seen in ages was actually written by a Jewish-Romanian born French film director.  Unsurprisingly, Cath News haven't reviewed it!

And it comes with the bonus of an absolutely fabulous soundtrack.

The plot

The basic story is that in 1980, conductor Andrei Filipov was dramatically sacked from his position as conductor of the Bolshoi in the middle of a performance for refusing to purge Jews and gypsies from the orchestra. 

Now he is an alcoholic, reduced to being a cleaner in the building he once starred in, with occasional gigs as part of the rent-a-crowds his wife organises for political demonstrations and swanky parties. 

By chance ex-Maestro Filipov intercepts an invitation from Paris' Le Chatelet theatre for the Bolshoi to perform - and decides to get the old band back together and pretend to be the Bolshoi orchestra in order to finish the concert he started thirty years ago.

Why it is so watchable

The comedy is twofold: it springs firstly from the (believable) bizarreness of post-communist Russia where there is more continuity with what came before than discontinuity it seems.  And most of all, from the multiple agendas and stereotypes of the motley group heading for Paris (or already there) - from the ex-commissar who sacked Filipov but who he nonetheless gets to manage the orchestra; the 'Gas Tsar' who thinks he can play the cello; the money-making dreams of the Jews; and much more. Some of the acting is over the top - and meant to be.

There are also some hilarious one-liners about the secularization of France, and commentaries on the nature of the capitalist enterprise to keep you entertained as the story unfolds.

Most of all, though, the question hanging over the whole film is whether this group of ex-musicians can find their musical balance once again.  Will music triumph over money and other petty agendas? 

For most of the film, things are not looking (or sounding) good.

Appearances though, as the film repeatedly emphasizes with some absolutely fabulous musical interventions from the gypsy concert master and fat Jewish now-ambulance driver first cellist, can be deceptive.

In the end the film as a whole hangs together around the story of the life of the Maestro, haunted by the gradually revealed fate of the Jewish soloist, Lea, whom he worries that he deliberately flaunted at the communists in that final concert, and the music they obsessively played together, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto No 2. 

Filipov has long since forgiven the instrument of his disgrace, Gavrilov, for the ruin of his career, even turning up and cheering halfheartedly as an 'extra' at the ex-commissar's Sunday afternoon pro-communist demonstrations.

Is his plan for the Concert in Paris though, just a wild alcoholic dream of a disaffected and perhaps unfaithful man, or has he remained true to his vocation, able to reclaim it when given the opportunity?  Why is Filipov obsessed with the young french soloist he has chosen for the concert, Anne-Marie Jacquet?  Will Comrade Gavrilov see the greater good, or will his obsession with the ultimate victory of communism win out?  And will the orchestra even turn up and play?

The film avoids the easy solutions to some of the main plotlines.  You might even feel a tear when the main story point is revealed (though maybe it was just the effects of that wonderfully emotional music!).  But it is both a comedy and a fairy tale, and you will come out smiling and uplifted.

So do go see it if it isn't too late (today was the last day at Dendy Canberra).

It is showing in Australia in Russian and French, with English subtitles, but the only trailers I could find on youtube had either dutch or french subtitles - I've chosen the latter in case you want to take a peek.

1 comment:

Sandra said...

What is entertainment? Generating mix feelings and emotions isn't it? Well The Concert survives a multitude of lovely but sometimes not so smart cliches to deliver big time on the emotional level.
The performance of Guskov is brilliant and the final scene, the Concert, a piece of anthology nailing on the head Tchaikovsky's music.
9/10 for all public but certainly 10/10 if you like music.