UK Release Date: 12th February 2018
Runtime: 69 minutes
Director: Federico Fellini
Writer: Federico Fellini, Brunello Rondi
Starring: Balduin Baas, Umberto Zuanelli, Clara Colosimo, Ferdinando Villella, David Maunsell, Claudio Ciocca, Sibyl Mostert
Synopsis: An unruly orchestra descends into anarchy as it rejects authority.
When opening a review of a film by Italian movie legend Federico Fellini, director of 8½ and La Dolce Vita, it might seem odd to lead with a comparison to Darren Aronofsky‘s riotous hellscape, mother! However, there are many similarities between the confrontational nightmare of Aronofsky’s divisive vision and the final act of Fellini’s unusual pseudo-documentary Orchestra Rehearsal, which follows the structural and social collapse of an initially polite room full of musicians.
We join the film as an orchestra meets in a dilapidated former church building, where they are rehearsing. There’s a documentary crew on site, filming for an unspecified fly-on-the-wall programme about music. The filmmakers, voiced in unseen cameo by Fellini himself, move through the building, interviewing various members of the orchestra, while the German-accented conductor (Balduin Baas) tries to maintain control. When a union dispute triggers an extended coffee break and the conductor disappears to have a shower, all hell breaks loose.
At just over an hour, Orchestra Rehearsal is a short, sharp blast of well-constructed satire. Originally made for TV, it stands as a scathing takedown of governmental structures that is equally critical of the hastily filled power vacuums and unruly anarchy that result from smashing the system to pieces. The exquisite control and perfection of an orchestra proves to be the perfect vessel for Fellini on overtly political form, with the inherent power struggles for musical superiority and the factions that form with the various types of instrument.
Fellini mines plenty of comedy in the early stages by highlighting the silly rivalries and hazing that goes on among the instrumentalists, as each of them shows off for the documentary cameras. Sibyl Mostert is perhaps the comedic highlight, with a crazy-eyed turn as the group’s extroverted flautist. Balduin Baas, meanwhile, is an unhinged delight as a crazed conductor representative of authoritarian social structures, whose oratorial style has obvious echoes of a certain German dictator. Baas is an unsettling fusion of Gene Wilder‘s sinister Willy Wonka and JK Simmons‘s verbally abrasive jazz band leader in Whiplash.
The film is initially a little slow, as we are introduced to the characters and their foibles, but all of that build-up pays off in the barmy crescendo of the final few minutes. Fellini leaves the audience with a cyclical message about the nature of authority that proves an efficient conclusion to this elegant, eloquent critique of power and those who seek to overthrow it.
There’s an interesting video essay about Fellini and the creative process behind Orchestra Rehearsal, as well as a featurette about the relationship between director and composer and some rare art for the movie.
Pop or Poop?
Federico Fellini’s razor-sharp satire Orchestra Rehearsal is a refreshing example of an art-minded movie that understands economy of storytelling, clocking in at less than 90 minutes without sacrificing any of its thematic depth. The performances are comedically minded, but capable of highlighting the political satire at the heart of the enjoyable story, which Fellini affords a complexity beyond the low-hanging fruit of “government is bad”.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Orchestra Rehearsal is available on Blu-ray in the UK now, courtesy of Arrow Video.