For most of its running time, Orchestra Rehearsal is decidedly restrained, seeing as how it was made by Federico Fellini. Opening as a faux documentary, with the film camera standing in for the viewpoint of a crew making a TV special about the activities of a Roman orchestra, the picture progresses from light comedy to heated labor-themed satire and finally to a dose of Fellini’s signature overwrought symbolism. On one level, the movie is a simple study of group dynamics and a celebration of the intricate process by which orchestras create classical-music performances. It’s a valid endeavor made with intelligence and skill, but some of Fellini’s storytelling choices dull the picture’s impact.
He spreads the focus around multiple members of the orchestra, with only the conductor receiving a measure of special attention because he’s ostensibly the villain driving the film’s slender excuse for a plot. Therefore, the movie doesn’t have a main character (beyond the collective entity of the orchestra), so the storytelling feels diffuse—each time Fellini lingers on remarks from this musician or that musician, the overall thrust of the piece falters. Even more problematically, at least in terms of generating conventional cinematic momentum, Fellini’s efforts to raise the stakes toward the end of the picture falter because viewers haven’t formed any special connections with the individuals who populate the story. Given its very short running time (the movie is only 70 minutes long), Fellini would have been better served presenting the piece as a slice of life without aspirations to dramatic impact.
In any event, the action takes place inside the tomb beneath a 13th-century church. As an orchestra workshops several numbers for an upcoming concert, musicians bitch about their ostentatious conductor, debate which instrument is most important, and organize to defend the rights they previously gained through unionization. Some of this stuff is funny, as when two musicians fight about the personal space surrounding their chairs, and some of it is idiosyncratic, as when a male cellist derides the violin as an excessively feminine instrument. The movie sets up its premise fairly efficiently, then bounces from one random episode to the next until resolving into a melodrama once the conflict between the conductor and the musicians explodes. Fellini distributes screen time capriciously, lingering, for instance, on vignettes featuring an attractive female pianist. And once the final act arrives, Fellini succumbs to his customary appetite for cinematic excess, using flamboyant violence, grotesquerie, oversized props, and provocative sexual imagery to make points that could have been articulated more subtly. It’s hard to reconcile this overly stylized material with the talky stuff that came before.
Orchestra Rehearsal: FUNKY