Radu Mihaileanu tries to craft an Ealing comedy with a Slavic accent in “The Concert,” but the result doesn’t hit the high notes. This piece of post-Soviet whimsy comes off as a strained effort to replicate the eccentric charm of the old British classics like “The Lavender Hill Mob” or “Passport to Pimlico.”
Alexei Guskov stars as Andrei Filipov, a once-famous conductor at the Bolshoi who was sacked during the Brezhnev era because of his promotion of a young Jewish violinist. Now a mere janitor at the theatre, he intercepts a fax from the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris inquiring whether the Bolshoi Orchestra might be available to replace the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an upcoming concert. He quickly puts together an orchestra of his old players, most of them long retired, and enlists Ivan (Valeri Barinov), the ex-manager of the Bolshoi who fired him—and is still a committed communist—to negotiate with the French and arrange for his ragtag group to impersonate the Bolshoi Orchestra for the concert. He demands, however, that young French violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Melanie Laurent) be engaged as the soloist, and that the program consist solely of the Tchaikovsky concerto—the work during the performance of which he was summarily, and very publicly, discharged twenty years earlier.
The improbable ploy works, and Andrei, Ivan, his cellist buddy Sacha (Dmitry Nazarov) and their band of aging, eccentric fellows (including a gypsy fiddler as concertmaster) find their way to Paris. There much of the humor comes from the exploits of Ivan, who’s mistakenly demanded dinner at a restaurant that turns out to be a dump, tries to reenergize the dormant French Communist Party, and winds up misdirecting the real head of the Bolshoi when he shows up in Paris for a vacation and tries to derail the concert. Bits that pay off less have to do with a Russian oligarch (Vlad Ivanov) who helps bankroll the trip but insists on being part of the cello section, and the frazzled director of the Chatelet (Francois Berleand), who’s frustrated by the Russians’ laissez-faire, non-professional attitudes.
The plot thread involving Andrei, on the other hand, is a much more serious affair, having to do with the circumstances of his dismissal and the family history of Anne-Marie, a secret jealously guarded by her longtime guardian-manager (Miou Miou)—all of which is eventually shown in flashback. It’s intended to be moving but is instead not only mawkish but frankly incredible.
Not as incredible, however, as the outcome of the Chatelet concert, which supposedly begins horribly but culminates in a triumph. You can understand why Mihaileanu and his collaborators had to end things as they do, but it doesn’t take a smidgen of acquaintance with the realities of the classical music business to know that something like this goes way beyond what’s permissible even in the most egregious fantasy. Yes, the Ealing comedies were outlandish, but they never threw logic and reason so completely to the winds like this.
That said, the production is reasonably well appointed, with some nice locations, and both Laurent and Miou Miou have a few good moments. The other performers, including Guskov, work too hard, though, trying to sell—under the writer-director’s rather heavy hand—what they must have recognized as inferior material.
Given that too few films take advantage of the drama inherent to the world of classical music, it sad to have to say that this is a “Concert” not worth attending.