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Reviews & Ratings for
Quartet More at IMDbPro »

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24 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

A complex film, the harsh fate of a young woman without resources in the twenties...

Author: Peegee-3 ( from Santa Monica, CA
20 August 2000

In the tradition of some Merchant/Ivory films...this one deals with very profound social realities for a young woman (Isabelle Adjani)in Paris in the 1920s whose husband is a thief, is jailed. She is left penniless and without means of support (has no working papers). A rather strange English couple (Maggie Smith and Alan Bates) offer her refuge...but at the price of seduction by the husband, tolerated by the artist wife, who is inordinately tied to him emotionally. The young woman's emotional and psychological state is thrown into almost unbearable ambivalance...Love for her husband whom she visits weekly in jail and the need for survival. The film's visual beauty, the lighting, the intensity of color, the evocation of the "jazz age", the cabarets, the authentic costuming, in addition to the splended acting and direction make this a film deserving of far more attention than it's received, in my opinion. A truly cinematic experience of significance.

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18 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Bleaker than the real-life version.

Author: Dierdre99
4 November 2001

Abandoned in Paris with no work permit and no savings, when her art-dealing (illegal) Polish husband is sent to prison, Marya Zelli (Isabelle Adjani) accepts the hospitality of the Heidlers, Lois and H.J.(as Lois invariably calls him) which, probably inevitably, involves her providing bed service to H.J. The video box describes the Heidlers as a "freethinking British couple" - if you can accept a couple, with such limited self-awareness and inability to talk through their problems, as freethinkers.

The film is based on the novel by Jean Rhys, based on her own experiences with Ford Madox Ford who presumably had more going for him than H.J., or else he wouldn't be in all those books on the literature of the twenties. Apparently Ford helped Rhys with her novel, and after he tired of her body got her a ghost-writing job on the Riviera. Rhys' husband was out of prison and had abandoned her before she moved in with the Fords. Presumably her major motivation was her devotion to her writing. Marya Zelli, in the film is not a writer, and she stays in Paris because her husband is still in prison. She says more than once to Lois that if given 100 Fr she would disappear (back to England where she could legally work?) but she gets 250 Fr just before moving in with the Heidlers when she sells almost everything she has to the hotel concierge.

Thus while the film is of the desperation of no choice, Marya has in fact fewer options than the real-life Rhys, and the film ending where Marya is thrown on the mercy of her husband's acquaintance from prison, is very bleak, unlike Rhys' fate of being ejected to a writing job.

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11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Astonishing sense of place, time and trouble.

Author: Evan Wm. Cameron from Toronto, Ontario, Canada
4 March 2003

Few screenwriters have ever jumped the gap that Jhabvala traversed between THE EUROPEANS (1979) and QUARTET (1981). I know of no other film that captures as well the sense of European pre-WW2 'decadence' (compare CABARET for an object lesson in failure!), or that is directed and photographed with stronger integration of the settings, colours, sounds and behavior within the story being told. A remarkable achievement - the film that put filmmakers on notice about how well the remarkable Jhabvala/Ivory/Merchant trio present stories locked into their space and time.

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14 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

A serious disappointment

Author: William Ploch ( from Lexington, Kentucky
20 February 2003

It's hard to say exactly why "Quartet" fails. There are certainly some good things to be said; Maggie Smith gives her character just the right mix of not-too-subtle cynicism and self-loathing, and the photography by Pierre Lhomme does a fine job of complementing the surroundings. But there is something missing. The Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala trio have always invested their stories with a strong compassion for their characters, lending a quiet urgency to the tone. Yet there is little of that feeling here.

The desperation of Isabelle Adjani's Marya simply does not ring clear, perhaps because her emotions are kept at a distance from the viewer when they should be brought to the forefront of the story. Marya views Heidler (Alan Bates) as a dominating force, but her fears and his intimidation never develop into anything effective. Bates is an actor who can always be depended on to provide a good performance, but his character is not given enough weight to dominate the screen when he should. In films such as `Howards End' and `The Remains of the Day,' the emotional conflicts between the characters drive the story and keep the (attentive) viewer involved; here, the conflicts do not spurn enough interest because the motivations of those involved are not very clear. The overall effect of "Quartet" is very cold and somber, with few, if any, memorable results.

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11 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

A brilliant film of desperate sadness (Woolcott) and naivete in a French setting

Author: cestmoi from United States
12 May 2001

That this was seen on a first visit to Paris at the Pathe Hautefeuille in the 6th may color the memory, but there it is. The sad Woolcott figure played by Bates is desperate (as is his Maggie Smith [BRILLIANT!] wife, a sad and cynical lady) and has an eye for new flesh. (This is pure Noel Harrison (Rex's boy) "new flesh to carve," as in his Young Girl cut.) The Woolcottioan figure is paunchy, unattractive, hungry, but with some social clout, and skincrawling. Maggie's character aids and abets. What's her line? One wonders if the satyr is in fact impotent. Cinematography, music, story line, cast...over reasonable expectations. Desperate story from a sad and deserate writer, Rhys, a suicide, I seem to recall. Ivory did this? Harder than the usual soft stuff the boyos do. Wondeful. Buy it.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Quite bland

Author: lossowitz from The Hague, The Netherlands
6 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sometimes I want to see a film not for the story or the cinematographic value, but to gain insight in the society of a period and location, and that is the case with Quartet. Paris in the twenties of the 20th century interests me for the audacity, the freedom, the excess, and the seeds that were sown for the development in arts, fashion and philosophy in the years after the second world war, when Paris became touchstone in those areas.

In Quartet Marija, a girl from the French West Indies tries to find her way in Paris after her stateless lover is jailed for communist sympathies. She encounters a British female painter and her husband, the Heidlers, who give her food and shelter, and even as she has her doubts, her lover encourages her to stay with them. Soon it becomes clear that the couple has an agreement, by which the husband is allowed to have affairs with young girls like Marija. The painter makes these allowances out of love and the knowledge she would otherwise lose her husband.

The "game" however, as they call it, turns sour as nobody seems to be aware of their true feelings, and when the husband gets free, he and Marija get back together, leaving the Heidlers to assume their old life, probably looking for a new girl.

Biggest problem for the perhaps otherwise entertaining plot, is the casting of Isabelle Adjani as Marija. Marija is said to be a rough, barely civilized beauty from a French colony, and Heidler tells her time and again that she is from a "whole different world" and has no understanding of their society. However, Adjani looks like every other Parisian beauty in the film, and behaves as if she is at a British boarding school. This discord might be a story device, but that is unlikely for it makes the story not more interesting, but more dull. There is no contrast between the couple and Marija and her husband, all seem to belong to the Parisian artistic clique perfectly. Alan Bates as the husband is quite bland, and not a feverish, dangerous, charismatic man that one would expect Mrs. Heidler to love so deeply. Maggie Smith as Mrs. Heidler is her usual condescending, slightly sarcastic self, hiding a vulnerable soul, which she shows wonderfully in the scene where she breaks down and sobs boundlessly.

The scenes in the cabarets and cafés could have been expanded for they provide such a great backdrop, and show glimpse of the naughty nightlife that makes the period so interesting.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Too literal a translation, perhaps?

Author: parsifalssister from United States
7 November 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It was not an easy film to watch, but watch it, I did. I did because I read Rhys in the 60s, and the book that drove this film among them. It does follow that story, but perhaps as other reviewers noted translating the novel to the screen was too much, too soon, or too literal.

Smith carries the film, while Bates and Adjani appear overly dramatic and disconnected as lovers.

The desperation of Marya (Adjani) is somewhat trivialized, while the Paris in which the story unfolds is nearly glorified but presented exactly how I image it in the 20s & 30s. Marya, while not literally Jean Rhys herself, is a reasonable facsimile and her doomed relationship with her first husband, and Ford Madox Ford became the basis of Quartet. In thinking about how the story plays out I remember how vulnerable and lost the author was and how much of herself she stuffed into her writing. But in that writing was a subtlety that did not translate onto the screen.

I gave it perhaps too high a vote, but it gets this 7 for its Ivory-Merchant treatment of painterly beauty which I always admire.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Unconvincing story

Author: vixenviewer from United States
14 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie was beautifully filmed, like all Merchant-Ivory productions, but was difficult to watch. The affair between Adjani's character and Bates' character was completely unbelievable. He was such a creep it was just stomach-turning when Adjani succumbs to his pressure to have sex with him. There was no discernible reason for her to fall in love with him, so it was hard to have sympathy for her character at all. Maggie Smith played her part very well, and was convincing, but again, not sympathetic. Alan Bates was just repugnant. The only sympathetic character was the Polish husband, who was in jail for most of the movie. Another puzzling thing about the movie is that, according to one of the reviewers on this page, there was some suspicion that the husband and Adjani were Bolshevists. While watching the movie, though, it seemed more likely that he was jailed for selling stolen property (the sword, which we saw early in the movie).

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

"There's nothing beautiful."

Author: potato2
12 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The story opens in Paris, in the 1920s, where a wealthy, loveless couple (Maggie Smith, Alan Bates) goes from party to party and is still bored. He is disgusted with his older wife and she, in an effort to keep him happy, has a habit of procuring young women to live with them for his benefit.

The acting by Smith and Bates (and Isabelle Adjani and Anthony Higgins, as the innocent young couple) is flawless, but the story is sordid, sad, and utterly depressing. It ends on a hopeless note, leaving me sorry I watched it. The glittery, jazzy, Parisian scene is convincing with beautiful sets and costumes, but they couldn't relieve the ugliness of it all.

This Merchant-Ivory movie was made in 1981, and is unrelated to this year's, "Quartet," which also stars Maggie Smith. Recommended if you like character-driven movies and don't mind an overwhelmingly sad theme.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

one thumb down

Author: Massimiliano Misturelli from Italy
7 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was looking forward to see this movie. Finally I did and I was really disappointed. I'm positive about one thing: the script was weak and superficial. Ruth Prawer did not a good job this time. In an interview Ivory said that she was not fond of the idea of making a movie from that novel. Well, Ivory did convince her, but he was completely wrong. She botched the job, that's sure. Bates and Smith do a very good job, I'm not sure Adjani does. Anyway, I don't like to say these things about a movie director I admire so much, but truth before everything. I shall wipe my tears away watching Maurice and The remains of the day, truly the best of his movies.

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