A Russian conductor, demoted to symphony hall janitor, intercepts an invitation to perform in Paris and decides that he will accept. AndreÃ¯ Filipov (Aleksei Guskov) was once a celebrated conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra. But during the antisemitism of the Breshnev era, he was ordered to dismiss all of the Jewish musicians and he refused. He now sweeps up in the concert hall.
One day, while the conductor-turned-janitor is cleaning the orchestra director’s office, a fax arrives, inviting the Bolshoi to perform. And Flilipov is determined to accept, even if it means not just hiding the truth from his employer but having to put on a full-scale performance with a group of musicians who have not played together — or in some cases played at all — in decades. Even more of a challenge is enlisting the help of the man he blames for destroying his career. Ivan Gavrilov (Valeriy Barinov) a staunch Communist party loyalist, was the man who interrupted his last performance to tell Filipov he was fired. But now, he is the only one who can help them because he can speak French and negotiate the terms of the appearance. He does not like Filipov, either, but he has his own reasons for wanting to get to Paris, so he agrees.
Filipov has one more requirement. He will only play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and the soloist must be the beautiful young French musician (MÃ©lanie Laurent of “Inglourious Basterds”). This leads to many complications and a few revelations and some thrillingly gorgeous music.
The story’s mix of comedy and tragedy is clumsy at times, lurching from farce (ethnic humor, mangled French) to stories of oppression. And there are some local references that will be lost on even cosmopolitan Americans. But Laurent is enormously appealing as the young violinist who never played Tchaikovsky and the music itself is every bit as transcendent as Filipov and writer-director Radu Mihaileanu promise it will be.