Friday, October 1, 2010

The Concert (Rhoades)

Surprise Performance For “The Concert”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

It reminds me of one of those ’40s comedies, with clever musicians thwarting the Nazis. However, “The Concert” is a more modern telling, a story about outcast Jewish musicians pulling a fast one on the Russians who sidetracked their orchestral careers.

Audience love to see turn-about justice.

Here a once-famous conductor (Alexei Guskov) is reduced to working as a janitor at the Bolshoi, having lost his position for refusing to fire his Jewish musicians during one of Brezhnev’s anti-Semitic purges. Vodka offers what little solace there is to be had…… until one day he intercepts an invitation from the Theatre du Chatelet inviting the Bolshoi Orchestra to play in Paris.

In this fairy-tale film our conductor hatches a plan to call together his old orchestra, the musicians now working in similarly menial positions, and pass them off as the Bolshoi troupe sent to perform Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.”

He even convinces the Party official responsible for his ruination (Valeri Barinov) to be the manager of the fake orchestra, accompanying them to the City of Light. Hey, even staunch Commies want to see Par-ee.

As it happens, the conductor has mysterious request for his Gallic hosts, that the orchestra be allowed to perform with a celebrated French violinist (Melanie Laurent). A secret to be revealed.

To prepare for her role, Laurent spent two months studying violin with Sara Nemtanu of the Orchestre National de France. The film’s original score was composed by Armand Amar, with one (“Le Trou Normand”) written by the film’s director. In addition to works by Mozart and Maher, the finale features the Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35 by Tchaikovsky.

A movie about second chances, “The Concert” was written and directed by Romanian-born Radu Mihaileanu (“Train of Life”). It pokes fun at “power, ambition and even failure.”

Mihaileanu presents Russia as a land of people wearing outdated clothes in decrepit surroundings. “I’ve spent a lot of time doing research for all the films I’ve shot,” he says. “For this one, I spent many weeks in Moscow in order to get close to a reality that, as often happens, is stronger than fiction.”

The director admits he was a bit nervous when “The Concert” played in Moscow. “I was terrified, especially about the line that the director of the Parisian theatre says: ‘Russians are like mules, to make them keep moving you have to hit them over the head.’ But the audience laughed a lot.”

Also receiving a critical tweak was the Bolshoi. “The film doesn’t criticize it,” insists Mihaileanu. “I just wanted to pay homage to the great tradition of Russian music. I know that snobbish critics don’t love Tchaikovsky because they consider the emotions to be too vulgar. But I think he’s the very soul of Slavic sensibility and of my film.”

Notice Mihaileanu’s cinematographic style used in distinguishing East versus West: In Russia, everything is shot with a hand-held camera, while a fixed camera pictures the French as “elegant but staid.”

But the witty plot will remind cinephiles of such old-time classics as “To Be Or Not to Be.”
[from Solares Hill]

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