There is a lot of confusion at the beginning of The Concert. People yell, play music loudly and poorly at weddings, or get fake passports and visas right under the nose of the police. It is the craziness of a post-communist society. The movie takes place in Russia, some years after the fall of communism. It begins with a janitor, Andrei Filipov. Many years ago, he used to be the conductor for the orchestra where he now cleans the place: the renown Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The maestro’s career was destroyed by the communist regime when he was labeled an “enemy of the people.” The syntagm was applied to all real and imaginary enemies of the government, and it usually resulted in public disgrace or even deportation to the Gulag, as it happened to Filipov’s friends. Now, 30 years after the KGB stopped the performance of his Tchaikovsky’s Concert for Violin and Orchestra, he grasps an opportunity to enlist his former musicians in order to impersonate the real Bolshoi orchestra and go to Paris for a concert. But all these people do not look like musicians. Old, living in clearly poor regions of the city, taking their instruments from dark corners, from under the table where they sell vegetables, or from obscure rooms where they record the sound for porn movies, they seem to come out of a forgotten world. In fact, they themselves were forgotten. They are people without a name, the “enemies of the people.”
It is the portrayal of a society that came out of communism, with broken people, who have lost their connections with others and with themselves. When the KGB destroyed the careers of the musicians from Andrei Filipov’s orchestra, the possibility to create music also stopped. Music is no longer heard, although many of the musicians still have an instrument and are still able to play beautiful notes. But all of these sounds seem to be only the appearance of a far, far away dream.
I will avoid giving details about the plot, so that I wouldn’t ruin it for those who may want to watch the movie, but I will refer to one scene. Sasha, Filipov’s friend, whose life was also destroyed by the communists, asks Anne-Marie Jacquet, the desired soloist, to come back and play for them. Filipov had specifically asked for her, and the movie lets us see that this is connected with the past, with something that took place 30 years ago, when the KGB interrupted his concert and broke the lives of so many people. “Just play violin, please,” Sasha says. Nothing more is required; don’t heal anyone; do not think about duties; just play violin. Just live; do not turn your back from us; do not refuse music. “Come play the concert.”
Anne-Marie, who had sensed Filipov’s sickness, refuses. “A concert is not a psychotherapy session.” She cannot cure him. In fact, he had asked too much of her, Anne-Marie believes–to become a ghost, the copy of Lea, the soloist with whom, 30 years ago, Filipov wanted to reach “ultimate harmony” in playing Tchaikovsky. And she refuses to give in to the same madness.
But Sasha had not asked for her responsibility. He had asked her to live: just play violin. Don’t say “yes” to brokenness and separation; do not refuse the possibility of music to come through you. And this call was one of despair; Sasha and Andrei need music, but they are no longer able to make it themselves. They are too broken. Perhaps if they can just hear it again, something may happen. Perhaps even Anne-Marie can be cured. “What if at the end of the concert, you’d find your parents?”
Sasha has spoken too much. Or maybe too little. “Music sometimes helps us grow,” he says. “Gives us answers. We are scared, scared before playing music. Scared of truth.”
Anne-Marie continues to be confused and demands clarity. And here are some of the most beautiful words from the movie: “Nothing is ever clear. I, a poor idiot, messed up my life. You ask for words, but words are traitors. Words are dirty. Only music’s still beautiful. But music’s prisoner in us. Music… refuses to come out of us. Why?… Sorry to bother you…”
“Words are dirty.” But how can this be? Aren’t the words alive? Don’t they contain life and also connect us with others over generations? They do; but in a broken human being, one that has been separated from life, one that has fallen into disgrace and lost himself in drunkenness, the words are no longer pure; they are tainted, just like all of us are tainted, by the dirtiness of this world. Only music is pure, Sasha says. Only music can give us answers. But music is buried inside of us, and needs to come out in order to be expressed. It’s just that, broken as we are, we no longer find the power to do it. We need someone else; we need love. It is our working together which can bring music out of us.
Anne-Marie suffers as well. She has never met her parents, and this brings her pain. Anne-Marie is not a hero. She is just a normal human being, like each one of us; but she is the person, the one person missing in the constellation that this broken orchestra is. And the well-being of each of the members cannot be reached in the absence of one of the stars. They need her; but she also needs them, even without knowing. If they all return to go for a concert, they do not do it for a principle, for an idea (as the communists do). They do it in the name of a person: “for Lea,” the one musician whose life was also broken 30 years ago. For Lea, regardless of where she is, can also be healed.
Harmony itself is not a notion, but life. Harmony is a notion as it is proposed by communism; a perverted idea, in which workers of all countries unite; against what? Against those who are not like them and even against each other. But ultimate harmony is just that: playing violin. Not refusing the music; and especially not refusing the music with another. A broken orchestra can heal when someone who can still play fills their brokenness with her music–her presence.