This orchestra needs tuning
By Rachel Saslow
Friday, August 13, 2010
"The Concert" was so unfunny, I had to consult IMDB.com to make sure that it was indeed listed as a comedy. But luckily for this small Russian film, the last third focuses on a more dramatic storyline starring Mélanie Laurent, the beautiful French actress from Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." Laurent shines in every scene she's in, and not just because she's wearing silver lamé.
The main character of "The Concert" is Andrei Filipov (Aleksei Guskov), a down-and-out conductor who works as a janitor at the historic Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. While scrubbing the Bolshoi orchestra director's desk, Andrei intercepts a fax inviting the company to perform at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris in two weeks. He decides that he will pretend to be the director, accept the invitation, reassemble his orchestra from 30 years ago, travel to Paris and impersonate the Bolshoi for a one-night-only Tchaikovsky concert. Andrei's unlikely scheme gets off the ground, driven by his ambition ("It's the dream of a lifetime") and hubris ("We're better than they are. The Bolshoi sounds like mating cats these days.").
Early on, viewers will suspect that there's more on the line for Andrei than a free trip to the City of Light. There's that nervous look his co-conspirators get when he mentions he wants to play Tchaikovsky and his odd insistence that he employ violin virtuoso Anne-Marie Jacquet (Laurent) to play a solo. Through cheesy black-and-white flashbacks, we learn that the mystery has something to do with a scandal 30 years ago when the Communist government forced Andrei out of his conductor's job for harboring Jews in his orchestra.
Many of the jokes rely on racist -- or at least culturally insensitive -- stereotypes. The gypsy fiddler travels everywhere with his enormous, loud family wearing gaudy costumes; they appear to live in trailers. The Jewish orchestra members sell black-market caviar and cellphones to make extra money while in Paris, and the Russians are perpetually drunk on vodka. Ha. Ha.
Another ongoing gag is the way Andrei butchers his French while talking to soloist Anne-Marie, saying inappropriate things and mixing up syntax. (He says, "I find you warmly" instead of "Pleasure to meet you," for example.) Apparently, this is a riot because he uses old-fashioned vernacular, but the jokes fall flat unless the viewer is fluent in Français. Was there really any hope that French jokes in a Russian movie would be funny when translated into English subtitles?
While the tension of whether Andrei and his ragtag group of drunk musicians will get caught impersonating a world-class orchestra before showtime holds one's attention, the best suspense surrounds Anne-Marie's past. Laurent manages to play a snob without turning her character into a villain -- just a damaged artiste with abandonment issues. More camera time for Laurent might have made "The Concert" into beautiful music. Instead, the pitch is off.
Contains much drinking. In Russian and French with English subtitles.