Comedy and Tragedy

People who like classical music, character-driven farce and/or films with a European sensibility should hurry up to Cinecenta for The Concert. This Russian-French co-production opens at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, as a politically disgraced ex-conductor goes about his janitorial chores. Still haunted by memories of 30 years ago when he was celebrated as “Le Maestro,” Andrei Filipov is dusting the director’s office when a fax comes in, a last-minute invitation for the Bolshoi Orchestra to perform at the famed Chatelet Theatre in Paris. Quicker than you can say “great comedic premise,” Filipov pockets the fax and puts in motion an elaborate scam whereby he and his old orchestra mates can sneak off to Paris and finally complete the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto that Brezhnev cut off halfway through as a deliberate public humiliation.

Mélanie Laurent in The Concert

Mélanie Laurent in The Concert

Classical farce, classic drama

People who like classical music, character-driven farce and/or films with a European sensibility should hurry up to Cinecenta for The Concert. This Russian-French co-production opens at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, as a politically disgraced ex-conductor goes about his janitorial chores. Still haunted by memories of 30 years ago when he was celebrated as “Le Maestro,” Andrei Filipov is dusting the director’s office when a fax comes in, a last-minute invitation for the Bolshoi Orchestra to perform at the famed Chatelet Theatre in Paris. Quicker than you can say “great comedic premise,” Filipov pockets the fax and puts in motion an elaborate scam whereby he and his old orchestra mates can sneak off to Paris and finally complete the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto that Brezhnev cut off halfway through as a deliberate public humiliation.

What follows is very much a caper film, but one underpinned by a through-line of pathos and pain. The long-scattered musicians have ended up doing menial work, everything from playing tacky wedding gigs to scoring porn films. Reunited and with forged passports in hand they’re excited at the opportunity that Paris represents. But where Filipov is focused on the music — and redeeming his alcohol-stained life — his cohorts are more interested in embracing western decadence while gleefully running a variety of black market scams. Filipov’s ex-manager is along for the ride, but mostly because he has a secret agenda about reviving the glory days of communism.

By the time the concert is unexpectedly threatened with cancellation due to a dark secret involving the young, internationally renowned violinist who’s been hired to play with the orchestra, the real director of the Bolshoi coincidentally shows up on vacation in Paris . . . and juicy farce yields to a more heartfelt climax. Even though the film occasionally wobbles as Concert interweaves its numerous plot elements while balancing tonal shifts from comedy to despair, all one can say is: Bravo!

We go from heartfelt farce to pure heartbreak in Blue Valentine, a downbeat drama that serious filmgoers — and all Academy Award completists — will want to see. This is a portrait of a marriage disintegrating after just a few years, and the pathos comes largely from the fact that there’s no villain, just a gradual awareness that these flawed but decent people have irreparably drifted apart.

The film starts in the present day, as Dean (Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson) goofs around indulgently with his young daughter, before dragging reluctant wife Cindy (Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain) out of bed. We learn that Cindy has medical training and works for a doctor. Blue collar Dean, who was employed by a moving company, is now a freelance housepainter. As he puts it, it’s a great job because he can have a beer in the morning before going to work, with more suds waiting for him when he gets home. The couple is intriguingly mismatched and there are signs that a once-easy rapport has frayed.

Deeper into Blue come the flashbacks that show how the couple met, and what a lovely, big-hearted dope of a guy Dean was. But Dean has gotten sulky, while ambitious Cindy is embittered by the fact that she’s the only adult in the relationship. Layer after layer gets unpeeled, and by the time the big blowout happens there’s no need to apportion blame because there’s really just a whole load of sadness to go around.

Blue is raw, unvarnished filmmaking with lots of handheld camerawork. There are no false notes, just two searingly honest performances that dare you not to look away as love withers and dies. It’s not pretty and it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but this film will stay with you for a long time. M

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