Orchestra Rehearsal

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Orchestral manoeuvres leads to mayhem in the original mockumentary

Image of Orchestra Rehearsal

Federico Fellini / Italy / 1978 / 70mins

Available on Blu-ray from Mon 12 Feb 2018

It’s a 13th century oratory – there are graves of popes. It’s monastic, no windows, high walls. Minimal. And wonderful acoustics. The orchestra arrives for a rehearsal and expectations of sensitive artists preparing to commune with the muse are quickly dispelled. Their session is being recorded for TV, the film is a mockumentary.

The musicians bicker, listen to the football on radio earphones, exhibit their own eccentricities. Each, to camera, says that there’s is the most important instrument in the orchestra and when they all begin to play together even the untrained ear sides with the conductor who insists that they are not playing for some tin-can carnival sideshow. Can the musicians work together to create something transformative and can art drive out division?
The intrusive TV interviewer with his roving camera lights ticks everyone off. There’s an equally irritating trade union rep who threatens a walkout, while outside the sound of car bombs suggest that all is not quite right with the world.

This is Fellini – that most Marmite of directors, you love or loathe him. The orchestra has a number of Fellini grotesques and the music comes from Nino Rota, Fellini’s long-time collaborator. By the late 1970’s Fellini was slightly passed his best. Orchestra Rehearsal was originally made for Italian TV at a time when Italy was in political and economic turmoil. Red Brigade terrorists were active at the time. The movie is a sort of allegory and it works on many levels. For instance, there’s no room for art in the real world beset by real problems. Inevitably the orchestra’s conductor – El Duce – becomes a manic Hitler figure and there’s a typically Felliniesque deus ex machina finale: startling and funny.

Is it any good? It’s no 8½ and, divorced from the political background, it may seem overindulgent. But it has its moments and everyone who knows classical musicians will recognise the bitchery and keenness to get the job over and done with and get home after the performance.