If you've seen Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, then you largely know what to expect with Orchestra Rehearsal, albeit on a much smaller scale. Lots of characters; plenty of local charm. Released after several years of diminishing returns for the Italian director, the film came to be after an Italian television production company offered Fellini creative control over a limited-budget production. The result is a satirical film shot like a documentary about an orchestra that revolts during a rehearsal. An obvious allegory to the socioeconomic climate of Italy in the 1970s, Orchestra Rehearsal sees the various members of the orchestra standing in for certain ideologies and proclivities. There is little plot, per se, but Fellini does offer moments of amusement. This is a minor work in the director's canon, but not an especially bad one.
Shot cinema verite style, Orchestra Rehearsal opens with information that a documentary camera crew will be shooting during a local orchestra's rehearsal in an old church-turned-auditorium. Thus begins the preening and prodding of the musicians, often by and through one another. The crew rolls through the auditorium during the run-up to rehearsal and we learn the unnamed characters' instruments and opinions about their craft, politics and the group. A lot of this information is superfluous, but the diverse cast plays well during the extended takes, and some of the banter is quite witty. When the conductor shows up sporting a heavy German accent, the musicians become restless. Local union reps are also in attendance, and spend time alternating between lounging and stoking nationalist fears. As the crew begins to rehearse, tensions rise and the building shakes - literally - thanks to an earthquake, which threatens to crumble more than the walls.
Released just two years after Fellini's Casanova, a film that caused its director much heartbreak, it is easy to see why full creative control was so attractive to Fellini. He could simply roll cameras and make a movie again. I recall from a college film course that he was inspired by real-life events to depict a group of disparate souls coming together as one. Fellini was impressed that such a group could work together, though it hardly goes smoothly here. Trade unions made Fellini's life hell on the set of Casanova, so his depiction of the union reps here is dripping with contempt. This actually makes for some funny one-offs, as the men bark at the possibly foreign conductor about working conditions and hours. Fellini shows them by bringing the building down on their heads.
Despite some charming interactions and obvious Fellini blood in its veins, Orchestra Rehearsal is not exactly memorable, and strains to fill its brief 72 minutes. Things just happen without rhyme or reason, and, as I mentioned before, there is not much to the plot. If this is a legendary director goofing off then I can accept that. Like a multi-act concert, the tension simmers, devolves and crescendos into a wild reconciliation. Of note is that Orchestra Rehearsal marks Fellini's last collaboration with longtime composer Nino Rota, who died shortly after the film's release. The production design and long-take cinematography from Giuseppe Rotunno is also impressive.
Arrow Video provides a newly restored 2K transfer from original film elements and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Interestingly, I have definitely seen portions of this film in 1.33:1 (full screen), and it would seem logical a made-for-TV film would be shot that way. The included booklet claims this is the original aspect ratio, however, and I trust Arrow. Everything looks pretty, pretty good. This is not a flashy film, and the color palette is largely beige and brown. Fine-object details are good within the church setting, and facial features are evident. Wider shots offer good texture in the instruments, costumes and stage. Colors are muted but nicely saturated, black levels are reasonably steady, and the grain is filmic. There are no major compression issues. I did notice minor variances in the depth and quality of the elements, but nothing is especially distracting.
The Italian 2.0 LPCM mono soundtrack, with optional English subtitles, offers excellent dialogue reproduction and solid ambiance. There is a lot of overlapping dialogue, and that never becomes distorted. The score and in-scene music is nicely balanced amid dialogue and effects, and a few louder effects during the earthquake are reasonably robust.
Arrow includes a booklet with technical information about the film. Richard Dyer on Nino Rota and Orchestra Rehearsal (20:43/HD) offers a look at Fellini and Rota's collaborations. Orchestrating Discord (23:10/HD) discusses the production and themes of the film. Felliniana Collection is a still gallery.
This is minor Fellini, but Orchestra Rehearsal is not without its moments. A feuding orchestra is an allegory for 1970s Italian society in this cinema verite project. Arrow's release is typically solid. Recommended for fans of the director.