Orchestra Rehearsal is a Fellini film that he directed after Casanova, which was a big-budget film but not very successful (although it’s a very rewarding watch.) This film was originally done for Italian television, and is almost a mockumentary. It follows a TV company’s documentary crew that goes to film an orchestra as it rehearses. It’s also the only one of his films that is really overtly political.
As the documentary crew films, the orchestra descends into anarchy while the conductor (Balduin Baas) acts like a fascist—and starts speaking German at one point, so we know where that’s heading… It’s set in an ancient church where famous people have been buried, a location that the orchestra is using to rehearse for a big concert. Soon things are getting broken, the musicians are getting rowdy. There’s a pub close at hand, and the wine flows. The musicians kind of take over the orchestra, and as it ends they are up against the conductor but falling in line.
It’s short at around 72 minutes, and very funny. The crew interviews the musicians about their work and their instruments, but the conductor is an authoritarian scrooge. It’s a great unsung Fellini film, and his last collaboration with composer Nino Rota, who died not long after. His score is excellent and really complements the film’s themes—the music kind of constrains Fellini at times, helping to rein in the playful craziness.
The look is definitely documentary, like another of his ‘70s films, The Clowns, but with all the Fellini grotesques that one expects. Both films are of course scripted.
There are some special features, including an interview with Richard Dyer, who talks about the collaboration between Rota and Fellini, and a visual essay on the film by Fellini biography John Baxter. The first pressing includes a booklet with new writing on the film by Adrian Martin.