By Dean Moses
The 54th New York Film Festival is overflowing with drama, romance and intrigue, all portrayed in innovative styles through the medium of motion picture by renowned directors. There truly seems to be something for everyone this year, no matter your interests. The Rehearsal was among the first to be shown, followed by a press conference with the film’s director.
Originally Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, The Rehearsal has been adapted into film and first displayed on the Society of Lincoln Center’s screens by Alison Maclean. This is a picture deeply enveloped in culture, involving the philosophies of a grounded New Zealand town and a kooky drama school. These two ways of life coexist seamlessly until a promising young student, Stanley, enrolls in the distinguished school.
Stanley chooses to use a tragedy as inspiration for an upcoming and considerably valued school play with the hope that this will lead to great things in his budding career. However, the tragedy is not his to use. His girlfriend’s family has become the center of a media circus after her underage sister is caught sleeping with the volleyball coach, henceforth creating an ethical battle for the young boy as he works on his play behind her back. The New Zealand Society itself serves as the movie’s backdrop, an amalgamation of rural areas and sprawling towns, occupied with a variety of classes. Culture is not the only theme; this is also a coming of age tale. Stanley has a deep need to become an actor—this becomes apparent by the depths to which he will sink in order to achieve his goal—yet the movie never truly tells us why he hungers to be a thespian. Like many teens, he tests the moral waters, coming to terms with what’s socially and professionally acceptable in terms of getting ahead in life. Throughout my viewing I did get the sense that Stanley is merciless or even purposefully cruel. Nonetheless, he did come across as extremely naïve, more so than your average 18-year-old boy.
As the film rolls on and Stanley and his fellow students mine away at a tragedy that has continued to unwrap into the public eye, the young man begins to deal with his own misfortune. Friends are lost, his girlfriend slips away, school life dominates his time, and, above all, a guilty conscience weights him down—well, at least I assume it does. My greatest problem with The Rehearsal is the way in which Stanley’s feelings manifest. One scene he seems awkward and reluctant around his girlfriend, the next he is all over her. Furthermore, his friends push him to tell her about their unscrupulous drama project, to which his reply is always in the affirmative, yet he never seems to follow through on his promise to enlighten her. It is through this lens we see his guilt, which, to the viewer, feels rather unsatisfying. I found it difficult to comprehend whether or not he knew the severity of his misconduct, or if he remained an ignorant accessory to the scheme concocted by the group.
The Rehearsal deals with some strong subject matter, including underage sex and suicide, and the approach people, especially young people, take to deal with these topics. Some viewers may find the themes strongly relatable, while others may find the experience to be another dry, teen drama.
A press conference was held with director Alison Maclean (Jesus’ Son and The Crush) immediately after the showing, where I had the opportunity to obtain exclusives comments on behalf of the Spring Creek Sun.
Spring Creek Sun: While watching the film I noticed two very different worlds: the school environment, which felt very kooky, and the outside world, which felt very grounded. Could you tell us about the dynamic between those two worlds?
Alison Maclean: We did quite a lot of research and spent time in drama schools, and my observation is that those worlds become emotional hot houses. They can be quite overheated. So that was a choice that we made, that those scenes could have a degree of being slightly heightened or slightly exaggerated. It was really important to me that the scenes in the real world, sort of outside of that, were more hesitant, grounded, subtle and real. That was something we talked about quite a bit.
If you would like to watch the NYFF’s full press conference with Alison Maclean visit: https://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016 /daily/watch-rehearsal-pressconference-alison-maclean/