Uplifting comedy ‘The Concert’ strikes the right chord

Melanie Laurent stars in ‘The Concert.’

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

“The Concert” (“Le Concert”) is a French-language film, based on a true story, about an aging Russian orchestra conductor whose career was ruined under the old Soviet Union over its anti-Semitic policies. Now he’s trying to make a comeback, but under somewhat shady circumstances.

What makes this history-based film different is that it is a comedy – a sweet, charming, uplifting one with a dramatic surprise at its end. This crowd-pleaser is warm and witty as it both amuses and informs.

Although its title is similar, this is not the controversial 2005 documentary about a concert in Israel. The French “The Concert” played several Jewish film festivals, including the Boston Jewish Film Festival and the London Jewish Film Festival in 2010. It won two “Cesars,” the French equivalent of the Oscars, and was nominated for four more, including best picture and director. It also was a 2011 Golden Globe nominee for best foreign-language film.

Musician Andrei Simoniovich Filipov (Alexei Guskov) now works as a janitor at the famous Russian Bolshoi orchestra. Thirty years earlier, he had been its conductor. However, Filipov was fired for defiantly hiring Jewish musicians, violating the policies of the Breshnev administration. Soviet officials shut down a concert midway and in doing so, left the conductor’s career in ruins.

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Intercepting an after-hours call from a famous Paris concert venue frantically looking for worthy replacement for a last-minute cancellation by another renowned orchestra, Filipov seizes the opportunity. Posing as the Bolshoi’s artistic director, he promises to be there despite the short notice. Topping it off, the Russian demands that the venue, the Chatelet Theater, hire a beautiful young French violin virtuoso (Melanie Laurent) to star as the soloist.

Now Filipov and friend and fellow musician Sasha Grosman (Dmitri Nazarov) have to reassemble their former orchestra – get the band back together – or at least those they can find. Adding a collection of unpredictable Roma musicians to their numbers, they hurry to mold them into a first-rate orchestra. The plan is to play the same piece that was stopped midway by Soviet authorities all those years ago.

Directed by Radu Mihaileanu and co-written by him and Matthew Robbins, “The Concert” is at its best when it evokes life in the Soviet Union in the late ‘80s and during its delightful musical sequences. While it does lose steam about midway, the dramatic ending more than makes up for that. It is a film one has to stick with, as the pay-off is worth it.

The film is sweet and the performers appealing. The comedy often leans to farce, with a bit slapstick but more than halfway through, the film suddenly transforms itself into something more, a tale of uplift mixed with political commentary.

Alexei Guskov is appealing as the sometimes overwhelmed, ever-optimistic Filipov and Nazarov as Grosman is his perfect foil. Melanie Laurent, who plays the rising star Anne-Marie Jacquet that Filipov demands for the concert, also starred as the relentless, young, Nazi-killing Shoshanna in “Inglourious Basterds.” Laurent is very good in her scenes as the confident rising star, who is a bit puzzled by the “Bolshoi’s” insistence that she appear with them.

Glorious music is one of the highlights of “The Concert.” Photography is lush and visually appealing, with black-and-white used for some flashback scenes.

While there is some bit of cliche to the plot, the fact that it is based on real history softens that. Basically, the film’s sheer good-naturedness, its mix of drama and humor and its glorious music make up for any shortcomings.

‘The Concert’

Rated: PG-13

Running time: 1:19

Opens: Opens Friday at Plaza Frontenac, in French and Russian with English subtitles.