Andrei Filipov (Alexei Guskov) is a vocationally ailing and middle-aged former conductor maestro, the one-time leader of Moscow’s celebrated Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra, demoted to the janitorial staff after recruiting Jewish musicians, but plotting incessantly his long-postponed return to the stage. Traveling to Paris with his newly reunited, hopelessly insalubrious, and bottle-prone orchestra, Filipov engineers what he hopes will reinvigorate his musical career: a dazzling performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, accompanied by a young Parisian violinist (Mélanie Laurent) whose previously unspoken paternal relationship with Filipov’s rotund cellist (Dmitri Nazarov) becomes in the film’s final moments the emotional cadenza its producers have long been waiting for.
Directed by Radu Mihaileanu, The Concert appears first as a tepid variant of the heist story—conductor Filipov and his ousted musicians conspire their way through the preternaturally sepia streets of Moscow to Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet—and later as a stylistically inconsistent, peculiarly overwrought example of jejune storytelling. “The music will bring us all together,” the assumption of Mihaileanu’s film seems to be, though the preciousness of this assumption as a message of moral uplift ultimately deadens our pending interest in the emotional lives of these characters, turning tears into surrogates for the Big Performance, and letting music do all the talking in a film that confuses daytime drama for the possession of a musical vocabulary.
That’s not to say that the success of a film like The Concert depends entirely on its understanding of 19th-century Russian music; it is to say, however, that Milhaileanu has attempted—and, I think, fairly successfully—to turn Tchaikovsky into something slicker, more lustrous, and scintillating than his music is or ought to be experienced. The strength of The Concert is precisely in these efforts to turn otherwise interesting music, emotions, and feelings into portable ready-mades, giving the film its irremediable veneer of the “cinematic,” cheapening an ultimately touching story with accessory and shine.