This could be the feel good movie of the year.
Andrei Filipov (Aleksei Guskov) was once a renowned conductor of the Russian Bolshoi orchestra, but when Bresnev declared that he wanted any Jewish members of the orchestra removed, he made a stand against it. For the next 30 years he worked as a janitor at the Bolshoi orchestra headquarters; a callous punishment to have him work around and not be a part of the music that he loves. Whilst cleaning he notices a fax coming through from Paris, inviting the Bolshoi orchestra to fill a position vacated by the LA philharmonic at the last minute. And Filipov hatches a plan to form his own orchestra, pretend to be the Bolshoi orchestra and play the concert of his life.
Ironically Filipov turns to his nemesis, from 30 years ago, Ivan Gavrilov, to manage the logistics whilst he and his friend Sacha assemble a motley crew of musicians from his orchestra of 30 years ago. Gavrilov has his own reasons for wanting to take part; a staunch communist, he sees this as his opportunity to relive his memories of yesteryear.
As part of the negotiations for Filopov’s “Bolshoi” orchestra, he has one demand; that Anne-Marie Jacquet (Melanie Laurent) be his violinist and that they play a specific piece by Tchaikovsky: this is an homage to the piece that was disrupted 30 years ago when Gavrilov stormed the stage to humiliate Filipov, halt the concert and allow the KGB to remove the Jews. Filipov has followed Anne-Marie Jacquet’s highly successful career very closely and as the film unfolds it unearths much more about what happened 30 years ago.
This comedy/drama works very well. The comedy, whilst not being side-splitting, helps the film keep the balance of the drama the right side of saccharine; had this movie been made wholeheartedly as a drama it would have perhaps been too schmaltzy; the comedy keeps the scenario grounded and does not allow the emotions to become overwhelming. It put me in mind of Life Is Beautiful in its ability to tread a fine line between laughter and tears.
The movie breezes along at a good pace and presents the audience with insights into the characters and the overriding story of what happened 30 years ago. Rather than reaching a conclusion, the movie, in keeping with its orchestral theme, reaches a crescendo where all is uncovered.
The actual concert scenes are fantastic with every ounce of emotion presented on screen from minor characters within the orchestra and audience to the main characters. Every single one of them is caught up in the emotion of the moment which is intensified by the incredible music being played. At the point the orchestra finishes the piece, you feel compelled to stand and applaud as the audience does on screen.
Some of the performances, mostly those that have to carry the comedic moments, are over played which works well; it’s as though the movie was orchestrated by director Radu Mihaileanu so the shouty comedic scenes were juxtaposed with quiet dramatic exchanges.
Guskov as Filipov the conductor, looking remarkably like he would pass for Harvey Keitel’s brother, carries the weight of the drama well and Melanie Laurent continues to impress those of us who only recognise her from Inglorious Basterds and The Beat That My Heart Skipped; I’m certain she will make further inroads into mainstream American movies in a similar fashion to Marion Cotillard.
It’s a lovely film. Any film that can emotionally engage the audience so well, deserves full credit for doing so.
My rating: 4/5