Absurd ‘Concert’ proves French make hokum, too

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 5, 2010 8:02pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It seems the corn is high in France this season — how else to explain “The Concert,” a fat slice of hokum based on a series of completely unbelievable events.

This movie is so eager to assure us of the indomitable human spirit and the power of music that it very nearly made me stop believing in both things. It should be a big arthouse hit.

In Moscow, a once-famous conductor now works as a janitor. Thirty years earlier, Andrei (Alexei Guskov) lost his career when he stood up to the anti-Semitic policies of the Brezhnev regime.

Now he seizes a very bizarre opportunity to pretend to be the Bolshoi orchestra, called to Paris with a month’s notice to perform the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. He doesn’t have an orchestra, but he has a lot of old friends who play instruments, and he knows some spirited gypsy musicians.

Right. The plot thickens, or coagulates, in Paris, as Andrei and his burly, cello-wielding sidekick (Dmitry Nazarov — think of him as the Nick Frost to Guskov’s Simon Pegg, if we may use a “Hot Fuzz” yardstick) assemble the pieces of their grand masquerade.

The movie gets a boost in Paris, when Andrei hires his violin soloist, a young woman who has a connection to his life, which the movie will tease us with before revealing.

She’s played by Melanie Laurent, fresh from taking the lead (Brad Pitt notwithstanding) in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” and she’s just as calm and steadfast here.

Director Radu Mihaileanu previously made the engrossing “Live and Become,” which told a heartfelt story at the level of a TV-movie. “The Concert” is silly by comparison; it combines a tear-jerking through-line with slapstick comedy, the latter fueled by a stream of ethnic and cultural stereotypes that would embarrass Roberto Benigni.

And then there’s the issue of suspending disbelief. I can buy into a far-out movie premise, stretch the bounds of credulity, all that stuff. But Mihaileanu needs to work a little harder at selling the idea that a rag-tag group of characters who haven’t played music in decades could get themselves across Europe and into world-class orchestral condition in the space of a month.

Yeah, and by the way, I’ll be playing guitar alongside Paul McCartney in a Carnegie Hall concert I’m arranging for next week. There are some kinds of nonsense that just won’t fly.

“The Concert” ½

A fat slice of hokum about a former Russian conductor, now a janitor, who gets an orchestra together in a month’s time to play a concert in Paris. “Inglourious Basterds” star Melanie Laurent lends a touch of class, but otherwise this is a silly affair that barely tries to be believable. In French and Russian, with English subtitles.

Rated: PG-13 for subject matter

Showing: Harvard Exit

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