Saturday, 14 August 2010
'Le Concert' review: If Jim Davidson could play violin...
'Le Concert', directed by the Jewish Romanian-born director Radu Mihaileanu, is a big cultural melting pot of a movie. On the surface (and from most posters) a French production boasting 'Inglourious Basterds' star Melanie Laurent, though many of the actors and much of the dialogue is Russian. Fitting then that the story concerns a once-great Orchestra conductor, Andreï Filipov (Aleksei Guskov), thrown out of the Bolshoi for standing up against racial intolerance towards Jews under Brezhnev. But, 30 years after the this injustice, Filipov intercepts an invitation to play in Paris, intended for the Bolshoi and resolves to take a rag-tag group of Russians, from all walks of life (including a wealthy oligarch), to France disguised as the professionals.
Yet, for a film which makes a feature of the fight against racially motivated intolerance, 'Le Concert' is pretty happy to indulge in stereotype. Uncomfortably so: the orthodox Jewish musicians miss practice because they are hawking their wares across Paris from out of a suitcase; the unskilled workers immediately leave the hotel and become illegal immigrants working menial jobs; the gypsies make their living from stealing and forging documents and an Arab restaurateur threatens one patron by saying "they call me Muhammad Al-Qaeda". Some may see this as a good-natured celebration of difference, but I couldn't help but squirm uncomfortably in my chair as racial caricature after racial caricature was exploited for humour in this movie which very quickly descends into farce.
'Le Concert' certainly thinks it is a comedy and it isn't afraid to go pretty broad with it. An oligarch's daughter's wedding is marred by an all-out gangland shootout, for example (which feels as misjudged and out of place as it sounds), whilst the gypsies fake 80-odd passports very publicly at an airport. Maybe this is a very broad cartoonish way of commenting on corruption and criminality in contemporary Russia, but it strains credibility. Especially as the film plays it relatively straight at other points. It is also a film which is terrifically critical of the old Soviet Union and communism, with plenty of jokes about the old regime, so adding that to the cynicism about the modern era, you get a film which is pretty nihilistic.
Melanie Laurent is the film's saving grace, as she has an intensity about her which is always stirring. She is one of those actors who can communicate so much with a subtle change of expression. Aleksei Guskov is also pretty good, always portraying his character with a touching sweetness as well as a dangerous obsession. But mostly everyone in 'Le Concert' shouts their lines at one another in a way which is very unappealing and engaging. It is a film which seems to hate Russian people. For example, when the 80-odd strong Orchestra arrives at their hotel they are all continuously shouting all at once, bursting through the doorway en masse and surrounding the hotelier, waving their arms in the air frantically. These people are idiots, their characters thinly drawn and unsympathetic and, as a result, their plight is uninteresting.
The film scooped several César awards earlier in the year, for Best Sound Design and Best Music, and these were probably deserved. The Tchaikovsky music performed at the titular concert is mesmerising and intense. The fact that the final scene is more or less a long unbroken musical performance is the film's strongest suit - and in that respect it ends of a high note (no pun intended). But for much of the film's running time, it is nothing more than a misfiring comedy of racial difference that feeds off the very intolerance it claims to be in opposition to. A woeful film.
'Le Concert' is rated '15' by the BBFC and is still on a limited release in the UK.