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The Rehearsal

Alison MacleanNew Zealand102 minutes201614AColourEnglish

A young student at a drama school faces a moral conundrum when his budding romance becomes fodder for a final-year performance, in director Alison Maclean’s (Jesus’ Son) adaptation of the novel by Booker Prize–winning author Eleanor Catton.

There may be no better place to set a film about truth, trust, and authenticity than a drama school. Adapted from the novel by Booker Prize–winning author Eleanor Catton, The Rehearsal provides us with a perfect petri dish in which to watch the vagaries of human nature grow and propagate.

When young Stanley (James Rolleston) auditions for drama school, he has only a faint idea of what he's in for. He quickly makes friends with many in his class, especially his roommate, the clownish William. Stanley is not quite prepared for the emotional rigour and pressure of some of his classes, particularly those taught by the institute head, Hannah. She is a force of nature, played to the hilt in a crackerjack performance by Kerry Fox: commanding and charismatic, but with questionable ethics around how far to push her students. And she's pushing some of them close to the breaking point.

In the meantime, though, Stanley has met a girl. He likes her a lot, and his affection is not diminished by the television news broadcast that reveals her family to be going through a steamy scandal. But when his classmates suggest that their final-year group project be a dramatization of that same scandal — and that Stanley's relationship with her could provide access to prime dramatic material — he starts to feel a moral pinch.

The lives of these students and their surrounding community become bound up together, and then come apart. But how exactly that transpires is something best left for the viewer to discover, as the pieces of this immaculately constructed puzzle fall quietly into place until the entire picture is clear.

JANE SCHOETTLE

DramaLiterary InterestFemale DirectorPerforming ArtsAustralia + New Zealand