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Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio

Red Envelope Entertainment // Unrated // Netflix-exclusive; not for sale // November 4, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted November 29, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
World Music is a term that gets bandied about for just about anything outside of the prefab pop-rock mold these days, although World Music as a genre itself has become increasingly prefab at times. The term gets an actual literal reading with The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio, an engaging if too long documentary that would have been better had it focused less on the trials and tribulations of putting together a mostly amateur troupe of musicians from all over the world, and more upon the actual music.



The Orchestra's story starts in 2002, when this documentary shows Rome's then-decrepit Apollo Theater in the heart of the Esquilino neighborhood, where the Piazza Vittorio is the heart and soul of community life (it's a neighborhood made famous in de Sica's iconic neorealist film The Bicycle Thieves). The theater was about to become a bingo hall, something that future Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio Music Director Marco Tronco couldn't abide. Also bubbling in the cultural zeitgeist of the time were some restrictive anti-immigration laws, something this neighborhood, made up mostly of those from other lands, found personally troubling. Tronco combined these two elements by forming a group to perform at benefits to protest both the Apollo's immanent degradation as well as the disturbing legislation. Tronco soon had the vision of creating a real "world music" community culling talents from people literally all over the world, who would join together as one cohesive unit. Easier said than done, as the old adage goes.



This documentary covers several years of Tronco's efforts to get the orchestra not only populated with good enough musicians, but also to find a rehearsal space, funding, and all the other little necessities of a successful artistic life. Tronco weathers the artistic temperaments of people who, as professionals or even semi-pro's, feel they're better than the bulk of the group, as well as other unforeseen obstacles, like one of his central players finding out his Work Visa had expired and that he was about to be expelled from Italy. It's all interesting enough, and it's handled in true cinema verite style, with a mostly handheld camera following the artist-warriors around, but it simply gets too frenetic and fraught with problems to ultimately sustain its running length.



What saves the documentary from being a trial in and of itself are the frequent breaks to musicians playing their indigenous musics. Tronco ultimately assembled an amazing group of musicians playing an unparalleled variety of ethnic instruments, everything from tables to cimbaloms, to more widely seen and heard things like traditional violins. It makes for an at times disconcerting (no pun intended) mélange that is nonetheless incredibly exciting and moving. When the documentary finally moves into a concert setting in its final few minutes, it truly comes alive and I had to think the whole piece would have been better as a concert documentary intercut with some history footage, rather than vice versa.



The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio has since become a World Music force of its own, extremely popular in Italy and gaining more of a global presence in the intervening years since its founding. This documentary is an interesting look at what it takes to get a mold-breaking artistic vision off the ground, but it would have been a lot more engaging had it focused more on what was really at stake: incredible music.









The DVD


Video:
The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio's enhanced 1.78:1 image was obviously shot on the fly, mostly utilizing handheld cameras, so if you take that into account you won't be disappointed with the image. There's the usual softness, not to mention some I believe purposely added filtered grain to some of the nighttime sequences.




Sound:
The DD 2.0 soundtrack is quite good, though this film, at least in its concert and intercut performance sequences, certainly could have benefitted from a 5.1 mix. Fidelity is excellent and the music is reproduced brilliantly. The film defaults to English subtitles on, since most of the dialogue is in Italian.





Extras:
There's a brief featurette showing the end of a screening at IFC, as well as an equally brief follow-up performance by some of the Orchestra at the screening. There's also a trailer.




Final Thoughts:
The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio is going to appeal to artists' groups everywhere who will probably be cheering madly at the sight of a bunch of ragtag musicians actually surviving and prospering in a climate of oppression. My hunch is the generalist audience is, like me, going to wish there had been a lot more concert footage and a lot less of the tsuris behind forming the orchestra. Whatever camp you fall into, this is certainly an interesting evening's entertainment, so I suggest you Rent It.


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