Shameless music to the ears
‘The Concert’’ could just have been some sanctimonious exercise in sentimentality. Any time anti-Semitism, Soviet communism, and Tchaikovsky come together, Kleenex and a foreign-language Oscar can’t be far behind. But even though the grand finale is not without some arm-twisting, “The Concert’’ is a passable, sometimes skillful farce. Once upon a time, Andrei Filipov (Alexei Guskov) conducted the Bolshoi Orchestra. Now, he works as its janitor. It’s a long story. But, basically, 30 years ago, he lost everything when he refused to sack his Jewish musicians at the behest of the Communist Party. Rather than continue to fantasize about his old job, he hatches a scheme to take it back, by impersonating the Bolshoi.
The orchestra’s been invited to tour France (conveniently, the Los Angeles Philharmonic had to drop out), and the screenplay, which the director, Radu Mihaileanu, co-wrote, works hard to carry off the ruse right up to the big night. The star violinist, a young French woman played by Mélanie Laurent, is recruited as the evening’s main attraction, and one of the imposter-Bolshoi’s financial backers (Vlad Ivanov) is also a hack musician and a lunatic oligarch.
Meanwhile, Andrei conducts this ruse with slightly less élan than he does actual musicians, but he’s got wonderful support. Dmitri Nazarov plays Andrei’s best friend, Sacha, a Jew who also lost everything when Andrei defied the Soviets. When he’s exasperated, Nazarov spits and sweats. He’s frequently out of breath. His frustration with the entire ploy is funny. This is a just-so-crazy-it-might-work movie, and Nazarov robustly performs his duties as the house skeptic. Valeriy Barinov might be even better as the manager whose cowardice cost Andrei and his friends their careers, and now they’ve brought him aboard to help them get into France. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such formal French spoken with so much violence. His Russian accent hacks into the French like an ax.
Small but important parts go to François Berléand, Miou-Miou, and the enjoyably acerbic Anna Kamenova, as Andrei’s crafty wife. None of them, including Ivanov, has enough to do. And why Laurent is featured so prominently in the ads is slightly mysterious. The role is crucial for an inevitable plot twist, but much of it requires her to stand around listening. Her character’s life, however, has a lot in common with the woman she played in “Inglourious Basterds. ’’ Laurent was better in that movie.
I’m not sure any of “The Concert’’ is plausible. I mean, the entire operation hinges on a missed e-mail? What kind of Mickey Mouse operation, desperate for a replacement outfit, doesn’t promptly follow up with a phone call? And what about the speedy procurement of instruments and travel visas? The fake passport sequence is a travesty of European homeland security. These logical lapses are laughable, and still the mounting ludicrousness is entertaining, almost in spite of itself. The fake Bolshoi’s crowning orchestral performance hinges on Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, while at least a half dozen cameras seem to follow the act, and about four different loose ends are tied up with cutaways, longing glances, and flashbacks. It’s appealingly shameless — the sort of cheese only the lactose intolerant could resist.