It was the screening of the Japanese film Nodame Cantabile earlier this year that piqued my interest in classical music being featured on film, but I suppose it's Le Concert that sealed the deal, although this European film did exude similar sensibilities like the Japanese one in having a conductor face insurmountable odds in turning around a makeshift, rag-tag 55 piece orchestra into one befitting of the name "Bolshoi", building up to a crescendo of a finale that just begs for an encore.
Nodame Cantabile provided a lot more romantic fluff and a quick 101 introduction to classical music and its famed composers, sort of like a McDonald's way of a fast-food sampling rich musical pieces, but it is Le Concert that persisted in wanting to use Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, which is considered as one of the most difficult for the violin, to center this film around it, complete with a huge and critical backstory that makes this film well rounded, and in keeping you engaged especially with a tale about passion bordering on obsession, and the redemption of the sins of the earlier generation.
But don't get me wrong that the film is solely filled with such serious themes, as it's almost comedy all of the way to its centerpiece performance. We follow the story of Andrei Filipov (Aleksei Guskov), a one time hotshot conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra who was cut down to size, and now works as the janitor in the halls of his glorious past. He chances upon an opportunity from Paris which had invited the Bolshoi, but hence decides to hijack this opportunity, and to bring his own team of musicians on a trip that they would never forget. He's a man on a mission, and you just might wonder why he would want to take such a big risk, other than the fact that the current Bolshoi orchestra is playing like crap, but it adds to the mystery of the man, and the past that he's hiding from through the bottle.
Together with best friend Sacha (Dmitri Nazarov) who's now an ambulance driver, they go back to assemble a team comprising colleagues from the past, who have each moved onto different occupations, to convince them in joining their madcap mission - to showcase their talent once again after 30 years since their disbanding. The first component of the narrative is steeped in their mission to raise funds and sponsorship, and to seek the help of one time adversary Ivan Gavrilov (Valeriy Barinov), an ex-KGB agent who had a hand in their demise, to see them through this 3 day trip through deliberate misrepresentation because of his fluency in French.
But of course things aren't exactly the same as some 30 years back, and everyone has their own personal agenda in wanting to go to Paris, and more so when they cross borders through forged credentials, complete with a whole slew of comedy of errors when they touchdown in the City of Lights. Some may find it a tad offensive when the Russians are portrayed as boorish, from their drunk behaviour to their unreasonableness in demanding per diems immediately, for services yet to be rendered, or that Jewish Father-Son team who's more interested to fleece unsuspecting victims in their get-rich schemes.
Otherwise, director Radu Mihaileanu will keep you guessing just how this group under Filipov will succeed given their disastrous start pointing to an early debacle, and more so when star violinist Anne-Marie (Melanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds fame) start to see through their ruse and refuse to take the stage with a bunch of unprofessionals. There's a little mystery here with regards to Anne-Marie's lineage that I have to applaud Mihaileanu for his red herrings and writers Hector Cabello Reyes and Thierry Degrandi for avoiding the obvious. Herein lies what would be a touching theme of music and harmony, of how it can bring out a unifying set of emotions, which leads on to pure aural bliss in the final act that one cannot help but to clap out loud at the end, as narrative threads get resolved, even though it resembled pretty much like a typical Japanese zero to hero tale.
The Concert won the Cesar for Best Music Written for a film and Best Sound, and it's not difficult to see why. With an excellent ensemble cast, sights, sounds and of course, Tchaiskovski, this is a film that succeeded in making classical music so integral to itself, without being too stifling for the masses to be a crowd pleaser. Highly recommended, and it goes into my books as one of the best this year!