Like many, I fell in love with Melanie Laurent after witnessing her superbly butt-kicking work in "Inglourious Basterds". When I read that she would be playing a violinist in an upcoming French film, I knew that I had to see it...I mean, music + Melanie = I'm probably going to love this movie. And after watching this lovely little French gem, I can't say I fell completely in love, though it certainly did not disappoint.
In "the Concert", directed by Radu Mihaileanu, our protagonist Andrei (Aleksei Guskov), is the former-conductor-now-janitor of the Bolshoi Orchestra in Russia. His career was ruined years earlier after a risk-taking performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was interrupted by the orchestra's Communist manager, Ivan (Valeriy Barinov).
Thirty years after that traumatizing event, Andrei intercepts a fax from a manager in Paris, asking for the Bolshoi to perform there. Seeing an opportunity, Andrei steals the fax, deletes the email and comes up with a plan - to reclaim his position as a conductor by putting together an orchestra and posing as the Bolshoi. With two weeks to go, Andrei must recruit a full orchestra made up of old friends and street musicians, with the help of his friend Sacha (Dmitri Nazarov), and the old manager who screwed him over.
Andrei plans to perform the Tchaikovsky again, and thus needs a violin soloist. He has his eyes on superstar Anne-Marie Jacquet (Melanie Laurent) and though things seem simple enough, there's a secret that Andrei hides that could change the course of the entire performance, and the fates of his friends and colleagues.
But don't be mislead by that ominous cliffhanger, "The Concert" is a comedy by the very definition of the word. Its writing is remarkably sharp and there are so many moments that are simply hysterical. The rag-tag orchestra's unprofessional antics bring on multitudes of laughs and the perfect comedic performances brought to us from Nazarov and Barinov are impeccably over the top without being annoying.
The film has a big heart as well, amplified by the sincere screenplay and the emotionally affecting performances. Each character has their own motives for reliving their musical heydays and each actor brings so much feeling to their performances. Melanie Laurent does particularly good work. She gives her Anne-Marie a cold, diva persona but there is so much beneath the surface. Her screentime is dissatisfying, but I blame that on the advertising people who make it seem like she's a co-lead. She's not, but she does beautifully in her relatively small role.
Being a movie about an orchestra, the music is obviously a huge part of the film, and it is absolutely wonderful. This isn't the first time the Tchaik concerto has been used as a plot point for a movie, but it's still one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. The original score is very unique and beautiful, and integrates perfectly with the rest of the film. Oh, and the actors actually look convincing while they're playing their instruments!!!!!! Take notes, "August Rush".
However, though I'm sort of singing its praises, "The Concert" is definitely imperfect. Its last act loses a large amount of the focus that makes the first part of the film great. I'm still conflicted about the conclusion, as well - without spoiling anything, I'll say that though I greatly appreciated the structural integrity employed, there's no way to get around the fact that it is extremely rushed. Yet, it is still a beautiful conclusion that left me in tears (thanks to Laurent and Tchaikovsky!).
Plus, it's not a film that will remain in your mind. I don't want to call it forgettable, but the only thing that stayed in my mind after leaving the theater was Laurent's performance. And to be honest, something like this would probably, nay, would DEFINITELY never happen in the real world of classical music (believe me! I have experience!). The plot and its resolution are quite unrealistic. I am, however, greatly happy that the film didn't fall into the sentimental bullcrap that I felt from its trailer. It never once went that far.
So if you get the chance, see "The Concert"! It's a gorgeous little film, a fast two hours that is full of good music and good acting. It's very funny, impeccably written (if you get past the ridiculous plot, which isn't so hard to do), and certainly one of the more enjoyable movies I've seen this year.