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Proving the adage that it’s best not to know how the sausage is made, Peter Brook: The Tightrope is a filmed account of a two week rehearsal workshop conducted by the legendary theater and film director (Lord of the Flies, Marat/Sade, The Mahabharata). While there’s no doubting that the rarified techniques on display here produce results, they make for an enervating viewing experience that will mainly be of interest to budding thespians.
The film is directed by his son, Peter Brook, who was clearly responsible for persuading his 87-year-old father, who says early in the proceedings that he was never interested in having any flies on the wall, to allow himself to be filmed guiding an international group of actors and musicians through a series of acting exercises. That it was all filmed with five hidden cameras, thereby providing no obvious intrusions, was clearly an essential part of the deal.
The title refers a principal exercise in which the actors are asked to walk across a large Persian carpet while pretending to be walking on an imaginary tightrope. They do so with varying degrees of convincingness, with Brook offering gentle comments along the way. Another exercise involves the performers shouting out numbers in succession, with Brook telling them not to be bothered if they occasionally do so at the same time. Other segments involve short dramatic scenes, dances and improvisations, often to musical accompaniment.
Speaking in elegantly refined tones, Brook, clad in a bright orange shirt, also dispenses such airy pronouncements as “Tempo distills the essence of what would happen in everyday life.” It all comes across as very abstract and New Agey, although the performers inevitably take it all in with rapt concentration.
Frustratingly devoid of any background information about the director’s storied career, the film is ultimately repetitive and tedious. While it will no doubt be of considerable interest to serious students of acting, it’s purely a specialty item that will have most everyone else wonder what all the fuss is about.
Opens: Friday, Jan. 31 (First Run Features)
Production: Brook Productions, Cinemaundici, ARTE France
Director: Simon Brook
Screenwriters: Peter Brook, Simon Brook
Producers: Simon Brook, Ermanno Olmi, Luigi Musini, Jean-Pierre Eklou Attiso
Director of photography: Alexis Kavyrchine
Editors: Josie Miljevic, Barbara Bossuet
Not rated, 86 min.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival