The Rehearsal Screen 17 articles

The Rehearsal


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  • The longer Maclean can keep the film about life’s natural unpredictable course by remaining rhythmically beholden to it, the longer The Rehearsal stays thrilling. Her style is as ingratiatingly off as it was in Jesus’ Son, mixing lateral dolly shots and woozy handheld close-ups with confidence, all under the eaves of Connan Mockasin’s oddball score. But the film must eventually conclude and in so doing sort out all the pieces, make them fit together and say something. This is a mistake.

  • It’s not difficult to intuit the rather banal trajectory the film barrels towards, and while Maclean does attempt to buck that expectation with the ending—the group’s culminating performance—The Rehearsal ends up feeling both coy and unsatisfying; the supposed thematic resonance just isn’t there. The students are instructed to, above all, “surprise” the audience; it’s a shame Maclean doesn’t.

  • It's such a hodgepodge of arthouse references, arch distancing effects, and emotionally vacant wide-screen compositions that one could easily mistake it for an awkward debut film... The Rehearsal’s dull blocking never matches its largely European influences (much of cinematographer Andrew Commis’ camerawork can be described as “attempted Haneke”).

  • Striking individual moments are Maclean's forte; shaping those moments into a coherent and satisfying whole, not so much. It's a bigger problem here simply because there are significantly fewer scenes that have a stand-alone function (whereas you could carve up Jesus' Son into about nine or ten terrific shorts).

  • Drably naturalistic and low-stakes throughout, the film is enlivened by an uncommon depiction of young people behaving and interacting in a believable manner, and confidently builds to a (literal) showstopper ending that’s both rousing and hard-won—enough to let one give the benefit of the doubt to the occasional shakiness that has preceded it.

  • The film can’t help but follow its characters as their actions become more irrational and occasionally overwrought, but like them it’s redeemed by a simple yet bravura closing sequence, one of those inevitable-in-hindsight climaxes that’s no less effective for being retroactively predictable. It’s an ovation-worthy performance, and enough to make you want an encore.

  • The film is organized around the paradox of wishing to impress authority figures with renegade actions that paradoxically adhere to someone else's notion of rebellion, and this nuance comes to breathtaking life in the scenes set on the Institute's stages. The civics lesson pertaining to Isolde and her family is unnecessary window dressing that tethers a promising tale of artistic toil to the strictures of melodrama.

  • Performance intersects with life in the world of young actors at drama school. It’s nice to have director Alison Maclean (Jesus’s Son) back in the world of narrative features; her sensitivity to performance and mood makes this an unusually unsettling film.

  • The main suspense arises from Stanley’s failure to tell Isolde what his team is up to, despite the fact that inevitably she will find out. More drama arises from the effects of Hannah’s harsh methods on the students, particularly Stanley’s vulnerable roommate.

  • The film is defined by odd, unexpected touches. The tennis instructor looks like an evil cowboy and too closely resembles the teenage girl he’s had the affair with. Kerry Fox, as the Institute’s director and main instructor, is harsh and preoccupied, but not a Whiplash monster. Maclean and Fox present her as a realistic intellectual who leads her own life away from her charges.

  • The tennis scandal works beautifully as fodder for avant-garde performance art, but there's nothing inherently compelling about the reality of it, other than the collateral damage. Maclean and Rolleston work hard to turn Stanley from a cipher to a fully human and moral being, but his transformation registers most when he's on the stage rather than off it. There's no hiding under the klieg lights.

  • Ms. Maclean frames her shots in casually elegant wide-screen, often leaving big empty spaces in the middle of the composition while a telling detail looks out at the viewer from a far corner. Similarly, a narrative development involving a character who acts as a catalytic agent in certain scenes brings a different set of concerns to the movie’s forefront, and could catch a viewer off guard; it’s clearly meant to.

  • You become determined to figure out how to tell one kind of scene from the other instantly. But the movie keeps fooling you. Which isn't to say that this is a film built entirely around tricks of perception, just that it has a firm grip on its central idea: that for actors, life and performance are a bit of a blur

  • Maclean’s film astutely presents a number of such scenes of revelation and crucial confrontation. It’s an involving but not always entirely compelling film, partly because of its fragmentary structure—it’s arranged in chapters, month by month—and its sometimes tantalizing layering of subplots.

  • The film inevitably provokes the term “multi-layered” in part because we are always watching actors playing actors learning about acting. But Maclean never makes this an exercise in cerebral self-consciousness. With great subtlety and incisiveness, she concentrates on drawing very detailed, believable characters and then follows the process they undergo in gradually immersing themselves in a discipline that’s at once seductive and demanding, vainglorious and ego-crushing.

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    Film Comment: Nicolas Rapold
    January 03, 2017 | January/February 2017 (p. 8)

    Maclean's return to feature filmmaking, The Rehearsal, demonstrates her enduringly incisive curiosity about the cinematic gaze and mischievous sense of humor.

  • The shifting terrain here is that of identity formation and performance, stage evergreens that Maclean gives an electrifying spark.

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