Rigorous and provocative docu “Rehearsals” records tense workshop sessions between three convicted felons in a maximum security prison in Sweden as they collaborate with one of Scandinavia’s top legit talents, Lars Noren, on a play (“7:3”) based on their experiences. Local auds will know not just about the 1999 play but also about subsequent, headline-grabbing events. Very talky indeed, but dynamically cut and skillfully shot by co-helmers Michal Leszczylowsky and Gunnar Kallstrom, pic is skedded for domestic release in January and could tread niche theatrical boards abroad in tony markets.
Bristly playwright Noren, best known outside Scandinavia for such sex-drenched but Scandi-severe plays as “Blood” and “Details” (the latter made into a film by Kristian Petri), is first seen halfway through the process of shaping the play’s material. In a bare room at Tidaholm Prison, Noren goes over his rough script with his unusual cast: Carl Thumberg, Tony Olsson and Mats Nilsson, long-term inmates playing themselves, whose earlier conversations with Noren form play’s foundation. Also participating in the rehearsals is well-known Swedish thesp Reine Brynolfsson (“Kitchen Stories”), who incarnates a playwright named John, Noren’s onstage surrogate.
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Footage of the final play is intercut with these rehearsals, offering an absorbing study of how the drama was forged through (not-always harmonious) collaboration. Olsson, a fervent, articulate neo-Nazi, takes particular issue with some of the lines Noren ascribes him, has bouts of temper, and with his young sidekick Nilsson and Noren has a long, unresolved argument about fascism. The more mellow, apolitical Thumberg and a clearly nervous Brynolfsson sit it out on the sidelines.
Were that all there was to “Rehearsals,” pic could have come off as a self-congratulatory docu about the reformative power of art. But the last act reveals no such comforting message. Practically the day after his last perf in “7:3,” a paroled Olsson took part in a bank robbery that led to the death of two policeman. Snippets from Olsson’s letters to a fellow bank robber and neo-Fascist further demonstrate how little his exposure to drama had reformed him.
Noren comes across here as no fool, aware his collaborators are not entirely to be trusted; but his self-referential stagecraft can barely encompass the complexity of the characters he’s encountered. Score one to life — and documentary — over art.
Leszczylowsky, best-known as Lucas Moodysson’s regular editor and helmer of docu “Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky” (he also cut Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice”), collaborates with editor Helena Fredriksson to craft surprisingly pacy action from the material. Lots of establishing shots suggest the chilly, industrial atmosphere of Tidaholm.
Kallstrom’s main bailiwick during filming was the camera. But he well deserves co-helming credit for instinctively catching subjects at key moments, and inventive use of both MiniDV and 35mm stock to vary texture.