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Sasha is a young Russian violinist on a scholarship to Juilliard, living with his affectionate but overbearing father, a cellist determined to manage his son's career. While Sasha prepares for a critical recital that will launch him on a path to a glittering future, he is increasingly drawn to the rhythms he hears on the streets of New York. When he meets Ramona, a bohemian singer/songwriter, he joins her band, and falls in love with her and her music. He begins to lead a double life, careening frantically between two worlds. Written by
Downtown Express (2011) was co-written and directed by David Grubin. The plot, although rich in details, really boils down to a decision. Philippe Quint plays Sasha, a Russian immigrant who is a superb violinist. Sasha has everything going for him--he's young, he's handsome, he has enormous talent, he has a scholarship to Juilliard, and he's being guided by his teacher and accompanist, Marie (Carolyn McCormick). Sasha and Marie are practicing for his major recital, which is almost certain to lead to professional success.
Enter Ramona, played by Nellie McKay. Ramona is living a marginal life, and scrounging food from dumpsters. She's a rock musician, but her band hasn't quite come together. Surprise! Sasha falls in love with her. Surprise! Sasha plays with her band and they are suddenly much, much better.
So, Sasha now has to choose. Will he stay at Julliard, become a great classical musician, and bring pleasure to people who sit in seats at Carnegie Hall to hear him? That choice apparently means losing Ramona. Or . . . will Sasha give up his classical career so he can join Ramona's band, join Ramona in bed, and bring pleasure to people who stand in front of the stage waving their arms?
A third possibility--joining Ramona in bed, but not joining the band, is apparently not an option. It's a package deal--no band, no girl.
The film had some good shots of the NYC subways and areas of Brighton and Manhattan where most tourists don't go. Sasha, his father Vadim (played by Michael Compsty), and Marie are all portrayed by excellent actors. Nellie McKay, who is described as "a critically acclaimed recording artist/songwriter," can't act. Every time she spoke, the screen appeared to freeze. We were in a theater, so I couldn't even use fast-forward. (That might be an advantage to seeing the movie on DVD).
We saw this film at Rochester's Dryden Theatre, as part of the enjoyable Rochester Jewish Film Festival. We watched 18 films at the RJFF. One of them had to rank 18th. This is the one.
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