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Reviews - Le Concert

Le Concert

Reviewed By John Stakes

Le Concert
Le Concert
The first three films of the autumn season all had one thing in common: their directors also wrote their screenplays, so the success of each film largely rested on their respective shoulders. This continued in last Sunday’s film “The Concert” being both written and directed by 52 years old Romanian born Radu Mihaileanu.

To better appreciate the core of his film it is necessary to understand Mihaileanu’s past. The whole of his film career has centred on themes of lies and false identity, not surprising when you consider that at age 5 he was to learn that he was Jewish, and his father’s true name was Mordechai and not Lon. His father had hidden his family’s identity following the loss of many family members in the Holocaust. Mordechai himself had escaped from a labour camp in Nazi-allied Romania during the war. It is therefore clear why Mihaileanu’s films are peopled with characters hiding and searching for their identity.

Mihaileanu gained considerable commercial success and critical acclaim as a writer/director following his decision to flee Ceausescu’s dictatorship in1980 and enter France. Eight years later he acquired French nationality and, somewhat ironically, was bestowed with the Order of Merit of Knighthood in 2006 by none other than the President of Romania.

Could his latest, a 2009 French/Belgian/ Russian co-production, match up to his 1998 world-wide hit “Train of Life” which scooped the critics’ prize at the Venice Film Festival the same year? “The Concert” is a funny, fast moving caper of a movie and stars Alexei Guskov as Andrei, a celebrated conductor until he clashed with Brezhnev in 1981 (because of his support for Jewish musicians) and is now a lowly cleaner at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. Fortuitously intercepting a fax, he sees a chance to regain his reputation by impulsively accepting an offer of a high profile concert in
Paris. The plot is that in order to do this he has to reassemble his old orchestra and the twist is that he must then palm them off as the Bolshoi! Will they get away with it?

With the help of his loyal friend Sasha (Dimitri Nazarov) and their old manager Ivan (Valery Barinov), Andrei succeeds in persuading his musical chums to reunite but, true to its hare-brained plot, things start to unravel on their arrival in Paris. The orchestra members find themselves more interested in sightseeing than rehearsing and Andrei becomes preoccupied with the young female violinist he’s engaged to play Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto (in D major!) who is bound up in the past he has yet to come to terms with.

From its wrong-footing opening scene to the emotionally charged finale the film was a delight. Mihaileanu skilfully handled his excellent ensemble cast and the various subplots with panache and pace. There was a touch of madcap Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”) and early Cohen Bros in the build-up scenes as the mixed bag of 55 musicians was knee-jerkingly assembled, the visual and verbal comedy flowing freely.

Amidst all the chaos, Mihaileanu injected a genuine emotional punch particularly in the later scenes as the heart strings were plucked as often as the violin. It was all unashamedly manipulating but who cared? The film moved from a frothy concoction to a rounded, absorbing and thoroughly satisfying treat. The editing and pacing were at their most effective as the denouement approached, and of course there was Tchaikovsky’s romantically stirring music to sweep the story along to its powerful
climax. Delicious!

Mihaileanu described “The Concert” not as a linear story of his life but as “an autobiography of his soul” In this year’s French equivalent of the Oscars the film won two Césars, for best sound and musical score, and was nominated for best film. It is highly unlikely that its honours will end there. A near capacity Alhambra audience thoroughly enjoyed this largely Gallic experience and voted it the most popular film so far in what is already proving to be a highly absorbing season.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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