Divertimento – Film Review

Divertimento, a film by Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar, is opening soon at a Luna Cinema near you. It’s rated PG – as most biopics are – and is in French with English subtitles. It’s an enjoyable film, with just a touch of schmaltz. And great classical music for nearly 2 hours.

A biopic, you say? Franco-Algerian Conductor Zahia Ziouani is someone you may not have heard of, or have only heard mention of in passing, until now. After you see this film you will probably see her everywhere! She is a woman of influence in France, an inspiring woman.

As is her twin sister, Fettouma, a cellist.

If you’ll be in Paris for the Olympics or arriving around then and before 4 September, you might like to book now to see Zahia Ziouani and her Divertimento Orchestra perform at the Philharmonie de Paris. Fettouma will also be playing her cello and they’ll be joined by large amateur choirs in a concert blending music, sport and dance — pitched as a ‘celebration of plurality’, choreographed by Mourad Merzouki, creator of the official dance of the 2024 Olympic Games.

This film tells the story of how Zahia and Fettouma got to where they are today. How they (Zahia in particular) came out of the Paris ‘burbs and crashed their way through the privilege often associated with classical music. The idea that a professional career as a classical musician, especially as a conductor, is only open to someone from a privileged background, and never a woman, is given short shrift by these young women. As a former Aussie PM might have said, the idea is shirtfronted.

When Zahia was 17 at music school at the Sorbonne she wanted to be a conductor, but – as we know – only boys and men can be conductors. Only boys and men – as we also know – have true artistic sensibilities. After all how many great artists are women? I’m being mischievous here, I know, polemical, but the point is still on the mark today as the final credits in the film remind you.

Despite the patriarchy, Zahia makes her way and creates the Divertimento orchestra, in many ways a youth orchestra, that soon became famous in France and beyond in the 2000s by reason of its diversity and composition, and the music it played. And which, as I say, you can hear and see for yourself in Paris from this May to September!

As the blurb accompanying the film’s release reasonably says, this ‘triumphant and heartwarming film offers a glimpse into the origins of [the sisters] extraordinary journey. Divertimento showcases not only the pursuit of musical excellence but also the resilience and determination needed to redefine the boundaries of privilege, bringing the universal beauty of classical music to  communities everywhere’.

Oulaya Amamra stars as Zahia and Lina El Arabi as Fettouma, but it’s Amamra who steals the show.

By the way Divertimento Orchestra has a great Instagram page.

As I say, there’s a touch of schmaltz about the film, but it’s good schmaltz with a whole 114 minutes of beautiful music, especially Bolero (but neither Mozart’s nor Bernstein’s Divertimento as far as I could tell!)

I give Divertimento an 8/10 rating.

The Season starts:  June 20 at Luna Leederville, Windsor, Luna on SX

By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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