Music as religion


The Concert (PG). Director: Radu Mihaileanu. Starring: Aleksei Guskov, Mélanie Laurent, Dmitri Nazarov, Valeriy Barinov. Running time: 119 minutes.

Melanie Laurent, The ConcertA trio down to one. Gypsy bluesman, guitar and a spotlight halo. Mind tuned to a numinous frequency. Fingers, impossibly nimble, driven by soul and muscle memory, weave melody amid the dappled tips of sunny seas. Rush it to foamy, gushing peaks. Drop it amid thundering, vigorous rolls. Then set it adrift once more, wet, bruised and quietly thrilled. The saga concludes in a cacophony of chords that leaves instrument, artist and audience ecstatic, reverent. It's music that transfixes; transcends.

I have witnessed this guitar solo of Australia's John Butler (of the Trio fame), 'Ocean', live, twice — most recently within the warm dark space of an Alice Springs evening: 'Ocean' in the middle of the desert. It's one of those performances that prove the transcendence of music; when the artist's skill, passion, and the audience's collective emotions are caught in a breathless swirl of sound and feeling.

It's the moment when God arrives, who or whatever it is you understand 'god' to be. As such it is music as religious experience; rock concert as church.

Whatever your musical poison, you've probably experienced something like this. The French film The Concert depends upon it.

It showcases Tchaikovsky's 'Violin Concerto' — a far cry from Butler's contemporary acoustic guitar solo, but equally magnificent. The film builds towards a performance of this ebullient concerto by a motley crew of musical Muscovites. Their conductor, Andreï Filipov (Guskov), intends to present them fraudulently as Russia's premier Bolshoi Orchestra for a one-off concert at Paris' prestigious Théâtre de Châtelet.

Andreï's attempt to pass off this ragtag and often boozy bunch as a distinguished and dignified orchestra is ripe with comedic potential. The film exploits this to occasionally irritating, slapstick effect. But centrally the film is interested in the human story of, particularly, Andreï.

The former conductor of the Bolshoi, Andreï was fired during the Communist era for refusing to expel Jewish musicians and has since worked as a cleaner. The hoped-for performance is less about recapturing fame than finally resolving past regrets. He is flanked in this endeavour by bearlike cellist Aleksander (Nazarov) and nostalgic KGB agent-turned-publicist Ivan (Barinov), each of whom played an untold role in that decades-old trauma.

Unknown to her, Andreï's featured soloist, celebrated French violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Laurent), is also at the centre of his quest for resolution. Laurent's dignified luminosity emphasises Anne-Marie's near angelic role in Andreï's and the orchestra's journeys. They in turn enable her human and artistic blossoming.

The Concert is a funny and endearing story of which Tchaikovsky is ultimately the star. His concerto swells at the heart of the film and, during the climactic moments, becomes the aural bed for a redemptive and literally magical conclusion. It is during these final moments that the viewer, like thousands of music lovers standing, awe-struck, shoulder to shoulder on a football field in The Alice, will appreciate the potential of music to enable miracles.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by Melbourne's The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier-Mail and The Big Issue. He was Chair of the Interfaith Jury at the 2009 St George Brisbane International Film Festival.

Topic tags: The Concert, Radu Mihaileanu, Aleksei Guskov, Mélanie Laurent, Dmitri Nazar, Valeriy Barinov



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Existing comments

Thank you for this: it's a powerful, glorious way to start a working day - being inspired to read about life, music, laughter, subterfuge, creativity and the perennial human search for redemption/resolution. And the writer's reminiscence of John Butler's virtuosity will stay with me: what beautifully evoked images and sensations. Eureka Street continues to provide inspiration, reflection, solace and passion.

Barry Gittins | 29 April 2010  

Tim, what a wonderful review. I thought for a while Eureka Street had put their poetry in the wrong box but no, you did the right thing in seeing this beaut film in poetic language. It really is a funny and heartfelt film with a magical ending, the best over-the-top wedding scene in ages and a mesmerising performance by Aleksei Guskov. Imagine seeing it under the stars in the outback - that would add another whole level of humour and beauty.

Mary Manning | 29 April 2010  

Bravo Tim! Like Mary I thought this was the poetry article. Music does indeed have numinous qualities and you have described it with virtuosity.

Anne | 29 April 2010  

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