Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Robert Connolly and Sophie Raymond
This is not another of those films like Mr Holland’s Opus in which a dedicated teacher transforms the lives of their disadvantaged students through music.
Rather this is a fascinating documentary that takes us inside a private girl’s school in Sydney and the music department, which holds a huge showcase concert at the Sydney Opera House every two years. Mrs Carey is the formidable head of the school’s music department who believes in the power of music to transform the lives of her students and nourish the soul. She insists that all 1200 students participate in the concert. She is also something of a perfectionist and a demanding taskmaster, and the rehearsals are rigorous, the preparations are demanding.
However, not all of her students are eager to participate, and this generates a frisson of tension that adds to the material. A major subplot that develops almost by chance sees two girls whose attitudes are changed dramatically through their involvement. One is Emily Sun, a troubled student who is starting to go off the rails behaviour-wise, until Mrs Carey nominates her to play solo violin on a difficult concerto. She is continually frustrated when her teachers ask her to describe how the music makes her feel, as she believes that it somehow loses its meaning. The personal pain of her private life eventually shapes her brilliant performance on the night. The other is Iris, a rude, surly, rebellious and disruptive student who is reluctant to get involved.
Veteran documentary filmmaker Bob Connolly (Rats In The Ranks, etc) and his new collaborator Sophie Raymond have spent the better part of a year embedding themselves in the school and filming the preparation for the concert. Granted an unprecedented level of access, Connolly and his crew are unobtrusive observers who adopt a frank, fly-on-the-wall approach. The cameras follow the students and teachers as they rehearse and plan for the concert, and uncover a journey of self-discovery filled with passion, angst and the occasional conflict. They even manage to capture some moments of self-doubt on the part of Carey as the concert draws near.
Connolly shot plenty of footage over the course of three years, and there is more than enough material to turn Mrs Carey’s Concert into a fascinating three part television series, culminating in the concert itself. Here the girls play with an assurance beyond their years, and the concert itself is a highlight of the film.