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‘The Concert’ achieves unexpected poignancy despite contrivances

You’ll laugh. (OK, maybe you’ll just chuckle.)

You’ll cry. (Or maybe just sniffle a bit, if you’re the hard-hearted type.)

You may even shout "Bravo!" — assuming you believe in fairy tales and happy endings.

Because, if you don’t, you have no business attending "The Concert" (in Russian and French, with English subtitles).

It’s another improbable but endearing cinematic fable from Romanian-born, French-based filmmaker Radu Mihaileanu , the writer-director of such award-winners as 1988’s "Train of Life" (in which European Jews, in 1941, escape the Nazis by faking their own concentration-camp deportation) and 2005’s "Live and Become," an epic account of an Ethiopian immigrant’s coming-of-age in Israel.

"The Concert" follows an equally heart-tugging — and equally contrived — path, from Moscow to Paris, as its downtrodden protagonist tries to complete unfinished business from 30 years before.

That protagonist, Andrei Filipov (Russia’s Alexei Guskov), used to conduct Moscow’s revered Bolshoi Orchestra.

That is, until 1980, when he defied a Brezhnev-era crackdown on Jews by refusing to get rid of the orchestra’s Jewish musicians. That, in turn, led to a Communist official bringing down the curtain halfway through Andrei’s dream concert — a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D major for violin and orchestra.

Three decades after that debacle, the maestro still works at the Bolshoi — as a lowly janitor. While cleaning a Bolshoi bigwig’s office, Andrei intercepts a fax inviting the Bolshoi’s orchestra to perform at a celebrated Paris theater. And he knows exactly what to do.

Round up his old musicians, of course, and finish the concert they never could 30 years ago.

Andrei’s best friend, Sacha (deadpan Dmitri Nazarov ), a cellist turned ambulance driver, has his doubts about the scheme. But, like a best friend should, he pitches right in, helping Andrei track down the ex-musicians, who now hold nonmusical jobs as translators and museum guards. There’s even a Gypsy contingent in the violin section. (Good thing, too — because they have to fake everybody’s passport.) A tone-deaf, music-mad natural gas tycoon (irrepressible Vlad Ivanov) agrees to sponsor the trip — providing he can join the orchestra. And to manage the excursion, Andrei calls on the same Communist die-hard (the blustery Valeri Barinov) who stopped his concert all those years before — because nobody knows Paris like he does. Sure, it’s the Paris of 30 years ago, but who’s counting?

As for the concert’s violin soloist, Andrei has a very special virtuoso in mind: the lovely Anne-Marie Jacquet ("Inglourious Basterds’ " Melanie Laurent), who doesn’t play Tchaikovsky — but will make an exception so she can meet Maestro Filipov, despite the protests of her no-nonsense agent (veteran French actress Miou Miou ).

There are more contrivances where those came from, but you get the idea.

Shifting between broad farce and delicate drama, Mihaileanu’s script serves up equal-opportunity stereotypes (boozy Russians, penny-pinching Jews, scheming Gypsies, snobbish Frenchmen) with unrepentant gusto.

Yet — as anyone who’s seen "Train of Life" or "Live and Become" will attest — Milhaineanu’s movies also have an uncanny knack of sneaking up on you emotionally. And when "The Concert’s" various, seemingly random plot threads finally interweave as the movie builds toward its dramatic (and musical) climax, it achieves genuine, and somewhat unexpected, poignancy.

Credit Tchaikovsky’s impassioned music for triggering some of that feeling.

Credit "The Concert’s" nimble cast even more.

From Barinov’s die-hard Communist, nostalgic for the good old days, to Miou Miou’s keeper of deep dark secrets, the movie’s players believe in the fairy tale they’re telling, even when we can’t. And Laurent (who’s surprisingly convincing as a violin virtuoso) brings a note of wounded-little-girl to her star musician role.

Most of all, however, "The Concert" hinges on Guskov’s performance. Luckily, he delivers a subtle, moving portrayal of a dedicated, sometimes obsessed, artist who never expected to get a second chance at musical transcendence — and can’t resist when presented with the opportunity.

You might buy it, you might not.

Either way, however, you’ll probably enjoy watching "The Concert’s" ragtag band of dreamers face, and embrace, the music.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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