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‘¡Viva Maestro!’ Review: A Documentary in Need of a Conductor


The Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel earned his reputation as a wunderkind by leading prestigious symphonic groups like the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In front of the orchestras he leads, Dudamel is a live wire, his signature curls bouncing with each wave of the wand. And when the music stops, Dudamel turns his passion for his profession toward advocacy, supporting programs that help young Venezuelan musicians develop professionally.

The documentary “Viva Maestro” follows Dudamel, combining vérité footage of him in rehearsals with interviews in which Dudamel explains how orchestras can help young people create a more beautiful world.

The film begins in 2017, as political and economic strife in Venezuela forces an end to Dudamel’s planned tour with the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, the country’s premiere youth orchestra. Dudamel leaves Venezuela, and the orchestra’s tour is canceled, leaving the young members of the Bolivars to join millions of protesters in the streets of Venezuela. But Dudamel continues to fight for his musicians to be able to perform, organizing international concerts as a way to keep his acolytes focused on a positive vision of the future.

Dudamel is a joyfully appealing figure, and the film benefits from following such an amiable subject. But the documentary lacks the rigor it would take to turn this warm portrait into a proper cinematic symphony. The protests in Venezuela represent a major upheaval for Dudamel, even resulting in the death of one of his musicians. But the director Ted Braun does not take the time to show the protests or to explain what has prompted them, and so, much of the film’s conflict feels indistinct. Braun prefers to fondly listen to Dudamel’s musings in interviews. But even the most passionate speakers can come off as rambling with enough repetition.

¡Viva Maestro!
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. In theaters.


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