The synopsis for “The Concert” sounds like a disaster in the making. It’s described as the story of the former conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra, fired 20 years before and now a janitor sinking into booze and depression, rallying former musicians working as flea market traders and suppliers of adult-film sound effects to give a concert in Paris using a stolen invitation.
But, something strange happens with this Russian film, made by a Romanian Jewish director who lives and works in France.
At first funny — if outlandish — and compelling, it slowly morphs into a gripping, affecting work, with a lengthy, mesmerizing finale.
The hero? The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in performance, driving many in the audience to their third handkerchief.
“The Concert” not only overcomes its silly-story baggage, but soars into a rare space of intimate, personal communication. It is one of the few of a horde of movies about classical music with music as the leading character, not just an awkward prop.
There are minor missteps — such as the tired animated map of a triumphant concert tour and a jarring, funny shot in the middle of the ecstatic finale — but nothing that spoils the film’s total effect.
The director is Radu Mihaileanu, who also made “Live and Become,” the story of an Ethiopian boy pretending to be Jewish to take part in the secret Falasha migration to Israel. While the films could not be more different, they both are an example of moviemaking from the heart.
Led by Aleksei Guskov as the conductor and Dmitri Nazarov as his cellist ambulance driver sidekick and conscience, the cast of “The Concert” is outstanding.
Mélanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) is superb as the French violinist whose secret is first the subtext and then the focus of the film. Miou-Miou, one of the busiest French actors, has a brief but important role.
The virtuoso Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Armand Amar is on the soundtrack, required to play badly (the hard part) and then surpassingly well. The brilliant soloist is violinist Sarah Nemtanu.
Starring Aleksei Guskov, Mélanie Laurent
Written and directed by Radu Mihaileanu
Running time 1 hour 47 minutes