Grade: B
Not rated (would be PG-13)

When this 2019 German film debuted at the Munich International Film Festival, the audience gave it a standing ovation. I’m not surprised. The film tells the story of a world-renowned German conductor who travels to Tel Aviv to assemble a youth orchestra composed of both Israelis and Palestinians. It’s a gestural stunt sponsored by a group whose next project involves a cause in Africa. But while the main message of Crescendo involves Israeli-Palestinian accord, a subtext is that all people ought to get along—including Jews and Germans, the latter whom, conductor Eduard Sporck suggests, should be forgiven for the sins of their Nazi parents and grandparents.

Peter Simonischek (Toni Erdmann) is warm and engaging as the fictional maestro who must work not only with the typical egos and attitudes of the artistically gifted, but also with two groups that hate each other and have stories in their families that reinforce and justify that cultural hatred. So while we see Sporck audition and rehearse his young musicians, a large portion of film time is devoted to his finding ways to broker peace, to break through the barriers with musicians at a retreat in Italy, neutral ground, rather than Tel Aviv, as originally planned.

Crescendo is multi-language, with spoken English and German and English subtitles. By American standards, it would be slapped with an R rating because an f-bomb is tossed near the beginning and again at the end. Only one is usually permitted for a film to slip into a PG-13 rating. But those two words, which come at emotional high points and are used for emphasis, are joined by only one other noticeable swearword in a film that’s otherwise PG.

If there are teens in your family who got hooked on the Australian TV-series Dance Academy, the few personal dramas that we get in Crescendo will seem familiar. There’s a romantic side plot featuring a Israeli French horn player named Shira (Eyan Pinkovitch) who quickly falls for a quiet and sensitive West Bank clarinetist named Omar (Mehdi Meskar), and there’s a competition side plot between the best Israeli violinist (Daniel Donskoy as Ron) and the best violinist from across the border (Sabrina Amali as Layla). The Palestinians’ families also appear, but for the most part Crescendo builds to its musical and thematic climaxes through Sporck’s efforts to bring them all together to work in both musical and metaphorical harmony.

At first glance Crescendo seems to be one of those inspirational musical films like Mr. Holland’s Opus, but don’t expect it to start from a point of discord and build gradually with a happy and harmonic point of thematic, feel-good crescendo. There are ups and downs here, there is tragedy, and there are moments of despair to rival those moments of hope. But eventually you walk away thinking we must take those first steps that will lead to permanent change, even though change may not happen in the next week, the next year, the next decade, or our lifetimes. In that respect, Crescendo is ultimately a positive film tempered by a realistic outlook. Artistically, the film begins with a scene near the end that has nothing to with music, and that structure seems a bit clumsy. But that’s the only real misstep that director Dror Zahavi makes in an otherwise successful film.

As Zahavi told The Times of Israel, while the story is fictional there have been and still are real-life orchestras comprised of both Israelis and Palestinians, the most famous of them being the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra begun by conductor Daniel Barenboim and scholar Edward Said. The director said that he hoped his film “will reverberate not only with audiences, but also with the Israeli-Palestinian cast.” With so many youth orchestras in the world, it certainly ought to resonate with a wider audience.

According to the Give A Note Foundation, “traditional, ensemble-based music education is by far the most common form of music education in America,” with band, chorus, and orchestra and their variations leading the way. With so many high school students playing instruments, Crescendo should strike an appreciative note. It’s theme should resonate as well. Who doesn’t want peace? But peace, like a personal relationship, takes time . . . and work. It doesn’t just happen. Crescendo is recommended for families with children of junior high age and older, especially those in music programs.

Entire family: No (junior high and older)
Run time: 106 min. (Color)
Studio/Distributor: Menemsha Films / Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer (Italian)
Amazon link
Not rated (would be PG-13 for language and some adult situations)

Language: 4/10—Three little words, for the most part, but two of them f-bombs

Sex: 3/10—A boy and girl kiss, and in another scene they are shown under a blanket with bare shoulders after it is implied that they had sex, though nothing is shown

Violence: 2/10—Something bad happens off-screen, and there are lesser incidents of pushing and shoving and shouting at fever pitch

Adult situations: 2/10—Really just all of the above, as this isn’t an action plot, it’s one big therapy session with music involved

Takeaway: Crescendo ought to be memorable for its realistic treatment of a feel-good story, and for Simonischek’s performane