The film adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal hits the NZ International Film Festival.
Local films and television shows - while at times, cringe-worthy - can be real gems. They can be dark horses that you didn’t realise you’d like or even necessarily see. With The Rehearsal, which had its world premiere at The Civic over the weekend, director Alison Maclean brings us a New Zealand film that is simultaneously simple and complex.
For those who have read the book, you’ll find that The Rehearsal deviates greatly from Eleanor Catton’s debut novel of the same name. The film follows 18-year-old Stanley (James Rolleston) as he enters his first year of drama school. Early on, he learns that the school’s teaching methods are a little odd, but designed to clearly push each student, whether it be to new heights or to breaking point. Initially, Stanley struggles with the class exercises but manages to form good friendships, especially with fellow classmate and flatmate, William (Kieran Charnock). But his moral compass is slowly tested as he begins work on a year-long group project and attempts to impress Hannah (Kerry Fox), the school’s most formidable teacher.
Stanley forms a romantic relationship with Isolde (Ella Edward), a 15-year-old girl whose older sister is embroiled in a sex scandal with their tennis coach. And it’s this scandal that ends up being the subject of his group’s project. Stanley finds himself torn, as his passion for performing and his relationship with Isolde pushes him to make dubious decisions. Along the way, the characters face a myriad of surprises and changes that makes them emotionally shatter and re-think the choices they’ve made.
It’s always interesting to see the place that you grew up in become the backdrop for a film. It almost feels surreal, recognising streets and suburbs, because on the big screen - especially the one at The Civic - it seems unrecognisable. Director Alison Maclean said that through The Rehearsal she wanted to create “an intimate, authentic experience of what it’s like to be a young person in New Zealand”. But the experiences of those characters often feels completely different to what it’s really like.
However, there’s something intriguing about being a stranger to something that should feel very much familiar. And to Maclean’s credit, the film’s clean shots and sequencing certainly provide a sense of intimacy and authenticity. Those feelings are amplified by the cast, whose performances are convincingly raw and natural - almost as if the film was happening in real time.
Cultural cringe in New Zealand can often run rampant, which puts a lot of pressure on our local world of theatre performance and acting. The ability of New Zealand actors and the technical quality of our television shows and films face constant scrutiny. However, the recent successes of Taika Waititi’s Boy and Hunt For The Wilderpeople has proved that those so-called “little” local films are ones to watch out for. Technically and emotionally, Maclean’s gritty film adaptation of The Rehearsal is no different.
The Rehearsal is currently screening at the NZ International Film Festival. It’ll be in cinemas on September 15.