Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2011 MFF Film #1 - Kinshasa Symphony

Germany, 2010
French w/English Subtitles
Director: Claus Wischmann, Martin Baer

A 200 piece orchestra of amateur musicians, the Kinshasa Orchestra of Congo is a group of diverse people who have or are experiencing poverty, bad living conditions and hardship, yet come together because of their desire to play classical music, sometimes at great sacrifice.  As an orchestra, they practice in makeshift spaces on plastic chairs with spotty lighting rigged by one of the violists.  When they perform, they perform outside in the dusty city and often-times hot climate.

Kinshasa Symphony is interesting, especially when it's revealed that not one of the musicians, or even the conductor, are professional musicians.  The group is comprised of both singers and musicians, and all seem to be completely immersed in music.  Stylistically, Symphony is structured differently than other documentaries.  At times, it seemed that the camera was just trained on the city streets for minutes at a time, and I'm not sure if that was supposed to echo the cadence of the music, or if I'm just looking too much into it.  Either way, I would have liked to have learned more about the profiled musicians.  In fact, with the exception of a couple of them, the subjects would receive such sparse camera time that I completely forgot who they were by the time their story was revisited.  I also would have liked to have known how some of the musicians learned their craft, particularly in the environment they were raised in. 

Both the film and the orchestra push their way to the climactic final performance, at which point we realize how much they have improved since the beginning of the film.  The performance, on a dirt field in the city, was attended by thousands, many of whom had never heard classical music before, and it was a triumph and absolute joy to watch the orchestra play Beethoven's Ninth, and the chorus putting everything they have into Ode to Joy and O Fortuna.  It was truly an emotional moment that showed the culmination of so much hard work by a group of underdogs, and the audience I was in broke into spontaneous applause when their performance finished.

I liked Kinshasa Symphony, but really wanted to know more because these were some pretty interesting people.  Despite that shortcoming, it was still interesting, heartfelt and enjoyable. 

MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5

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