Saturday, May 22, 2010

Le Concert (2009)

Le Concert is a warmhearted film for music lovers, and judging by the audience reaction at last night’s Seattle International Film Festival screening, I am neither.

The French-Romanian co-production, marketed as a bittersweet east-meets-west comedy and directed by Radu Mihaileanu, concerns a disgraced conductor who thirty years ago made a moral decision which cost him his career. Working as a janitor for the Bolshoi Orchestra, reliving his glory days and fixated on an aborted performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, he intercepts an invitation from the Châtelet Theater in Paris. Determined to finish what he started thirty years ago, he rounds up a rag-tag bunch of Jewish and Gypsy musicians and cons his way to Paris with the help of his endearingly eccentric friends and frenemies.

My problem with the film, was that it asked both too much and too little. It wanted to sell me hard on the humor and heartache, and both the comedy and pathos were, to my sensibilities anyway, unearned. Despite many decent performances, I was turned off by the tone of the film, which wanted me to find them endearing before I had a chance to know them or feel it myself. I also thought the competing comedy/drama elements sat uneasily together, making both feel forced when the story might have gone over better with a more consistent tone. Perhaps a darker comedy, or a drama with light touches, would have worked better than alternating low-brow, clichéd humor with strained melodrama. Further, the “east-meets-west” comedy seemed entirely based on the idea that Russians (or Jews or Gypsies, I’m not sure) are opportunistic, unsophisticated folksy types. My biggest problem, however, was that I was unwilling to suspend my disbelief that a group of players who has not worked together in thirty years and has not rehearsed can triumph on the strength of one man’s dream. And we know that’s where it’s going from the very beginning.

It’s obvious that the film is intended, fully, to appeal on the basis of triumphing on the strength of one man’s dream. So perhaps the fault is not really with the film, but with my watching it. I related far too much to the woman who tells the conductor that it’s a concert, not a therapy session, and he needs to get help. The movie doesn’t think so, and I think the film should appeal to classical music lovers who will appreciate the importance placed on performance and the fact that the concerto is played all the way through. In the end, that wasn’t enough for me.

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