Home > Film > The Concert or Le Concert (2009)

The Concert or Le Concert (2009)

When anyone makes a second or later film, it must be rather like walking a tightrope over a waterfall for the first time. You’ve made films before, but not this film. Every new film is like making your first film all over again. It’s reinventing the wheel but with different wood. You look over the edge. There’s so much water plunging down into the chasm throwing up so much spray, you can hardly see the rocks waiting for you below. As you set off, you check you have everything you need with you. There must be elements of:

Alexei Guskov as Filipov finding a moment of harmony


humour — you panic. Will the audience get it? Will they understand?
social commentary — will the foreigners understand just how bad the racism was/is in Russia?
melodrama — how could anyone think this drink-soaked crew of eccentrics was an orchestra? will the audience care whether they actually turn up to play?
blasts from the past — will the audience think this gives the characters more depth? will it make the ending seem more “soulful”?
all this music — oy vey, is this a film or a concert?


The Concert or Le Concert was written and directed by Radu Mihaileanu. It stars Alexeï Guskov as the conductor Andrey Simonovich Filipov. Dimitri Nazarov is in good form as a friend and cellist Aleksandr ‘Sasha’ Abramovich Grosman, while Mélanie Laurent is solo violinist, Anne-Marie Jacquet.


So let’s look beyond the cleaner being in the right place to pick the fax out of the machine, and not care whether after thirty years, any of the ex-orchestra would be still alive, let alone be able to play well enough to avoid embarrassing themselves in public, or have anything like enough money to be able to get their instruments out of hock and travel with everything to Paris, this is billed as a comedy, perhaps even a farce, so it doesn’t have to make any sense, OK. You curl up with suspended disbelief folded away in your back pocket and watch the film. As someone recently berated me, “why don’t you just relax and enjoy the movie, dude?”

Dimitri Nazarov as Sasha staying humble and in practice


Well, the sad truth is I can’t suspend my disbelief for too long. It’s a pain in the ass and, sooner or later, I have to take it out of the back pocket and listen to what it’s trying to tell me. Let’s take one step back. This is billed as a comedy. If it was an absurdist view with logic on its side, we could call it farce and judge it by those standards. But this fails because the writer/director couldn’t decide what kind of film he wanted to make. I suppose it might be vaguely satirical in its commentary on contemporary Russia — I smiled when the organising genius left enough time for the orchestra to walk to the airport, but not while the bullets were flying at the wedding. It’s weakly inclined to mock the French entrepreneur and the team that are setting up this concert, and it does make a point about the state of communism as a political force in France, but there’s no consistency in the point of view. It’s a random selection of targets.


It could be a more political attack on the appalling record of the government before, under and after Leonid Brezhnev. The back story builds to a climax during the concert itself when we finally learn who Anne-Marie’s parents were and so makes a rather sad point about the price paid by those who opposed the Soviet government of the day.


It also talks a lot about the power of music to reach a state of harmony where souls touch and dissonance is overcome. Frankly, I thought this overdone. When they are on form, good orchestras blend individual skills together to make a pleasing noise. On a special day, that noise will lift the hairs on the back of your neck. I’ve been privileged to experience it once or twice. But it doesn’t do to try and make a film out of it because, no matter how you try to record and show a performance of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, you can never capture the moment of a live performance. Once the sound is filtered through a recording studio and played through the speakers in the cinema, it always comes out flat. Worse, there’s never any suspense about whether the performance itself will take place. You know from the beginning that whatever happens on the concert stage will be redemption for our tortured soul of a conductor. That means every last one of the Russians that walk down the road to the airport must end up on the stage.

Melanie Laurent keeping her chin up as a violinist


The only potential things left to admire are the performances of our three principals. Alexeï Guskov as the conductor Filipov must live on the verge of cracking up. He’s a borderline (or actual) alcoholic and has never recovered the self-esteem torn from him by Brezhnev. Unbalanced geniuses are always a little wearing to have around and I confess to growing a little tired of Filipov. After all this time, you would think he would have slightly more of a grip on himself. After all, he does set the ball rolling when he picks up the fax. The more interesting performance comes from his friend Sasha Grossman played by Dimitri Nazarov. He’s beautifully long-suffering and calm about the whole thing. In playing the essential ballast to keep Filipov from capsizing, they make a great pair. He’s also pretty good on his own, particularly when he goes to see Anne-Marie and her foster mother. This leaves us with Anne-Marie Jacquet played by Mélanie Laurent. Having earned her Hollywood stripes in Inglourious Basterds, it was interesting to watch her performance in what could not have been a more different role. Acting the part of a talented musician is always rather thankless because you are required to mime the playing and merely look soulful at the right moments. Ignoring the concert itself, I thought this a brave shot at a slightly underwritten part. She must find the request for her to play surprising and be increasingly unhappy at the apparent lack of professionalism from everyone connected with the orchestra. But her flip-flopping over whether to play is not properly shown. It’s a good moment when Dimitri Grossman make a personal appeal, but the script ducks the chance of a proper discussion with her foster mother. An equivocal letter read in an empty apartment is a real cop-out. So, we can see the camera loves Mélanie Laurent and, when given something worth saying, she delivers. But she’s underused.


Sadly, I can’t say The Concert or Le Concert is worth seeking out to watch. Should it comes your way on terrestrial or cable, it passes the time assuming you can just relax and enjoy it, dude.


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