After a classical string quartet's 25 years of success, Peter, the cellist and oldest member, decides that he must retire when he learns he has Parkinson's Disease. For the others, that announcement proves a catalyst for letting their hidden resentments come to the surface while the married members' daughter has disruptive desires of her own. All this threatens to tear the group apart even as they are famous for playing Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14, opus 131, a piece that is played non-stop no matter how life interferes. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
While the quartet is assembling to practice in the beginning of the movie, Daniel is asked to give a first violinist a listen, Daniel says he will. He looks to Juliette, who agrees that's a good idea. She is shown with her bow at waist height, but in the next shot she is holding it in front of her face. See more »
Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable. Or say that the end precedes the beginning, and the end and the beginning were always there before the beginning and after the end. And all is always now.
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There is a scene of Christopher Walken, playing the older declining cellist Peter Mitchell recounting an audition with the great Pablo Casals, where he said his rendition of a known classic was "just awful, nothing but mistakes" but the Maestro praised it with evident sincerity. Mitchell had remained disturbed by the seeming lack of candor, until many decades later when both were at the top of the pack over a glass of wine he asked him about it. His response is a lesson for reviewing this film and beyond.
"I heard those mistakes, but I also felt your passion, your conveying it in strong sensitive lyrical phrases that others rarely achieve. Those critics who keep track of every wrong note are missing out on what music and life has to offer." And so I will leave the defects of this film to others, as there are many scenes that detracted from what I experienced, a rare sensitive exploration of life using a string quartet as exemplar and metaphor. I only went to the art house to see this expecting it to be, based on the reviews, a formulaic movie that happened to be shot in my old neighborhood of Lincoln Center area of New York. My wife is an amateur violinist who always came home from her week long chamber music camp with the glow of playing in groups such as this film depicted.
After seeing this film I understand why. These depicted consummate musicians, who rather than the solo careers available to them, chose to form a single instrument, one that required that most human ability of merging of individuality into something that can only be achieved by--the word for it is "symbiosis," different organisms uniting in a common goal. While the conflicts of ego, sexual attraction, fame and glory may seem hackneyed, it is because this is the universal challenge of sustaining any such group-from a marriage to a nation.
In my old neighborhood, a young world-famous violinist bought into our coop building. We lost touch when I moved to California a decade ago, and wondered why with unlimited solo bookings he had played with a chamber group. This film explained why, not only from a musicological level, but from the human desire to be part of something beyond our individuality. That is the element of this film that transcends music.
You see, I also play in quartets, but they are doubles tennis with two people on each side ostensibly playing against each other. Yet, for it to work, for it to give the same type of pleasure that my wife and soloist friend got out of chamber music, all four have to work together enjoying the virtuoso shots of any of the foursome, no matter which side of the net they are on. And like in this magnificent film, the ego that makes for the excitement, when taken too far, to the point of self serving line calls leading to animosity, can destroy the entire experience.
And as a string quartet playing off of each other in an "allegro" passage; in tennis, a flurry of volleys followed with a running get that is returned for a winner can bring joy to the performers and the audience. This perfect miniature of a film, like all great productions, is only achieved by such seamless excellence that no one can tell where one individual's contribution ends and the other's begins.
It is about the most sublime and entertaining lousy flick I've ever seen.
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