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Most reviews of "A Late Quartet" are nonsense. Don't see this movie if
you expect to better your understanding of Beethoven's last
compositions. Don't see this film if you expect to listen to his Opus
131 uncut. Don't see this film if you have a hyper-sensitivity to
melodrama. This film isn't in the least a melodrama even if, thank
goodness, it is far less heady than anything Henry James or Jane Austen
might have created.
What "A Late Quartet" is is a simple psychodrama that happens to deal with the lives of performing artists in New York, New York, a particularly artistic milieu. Are artists sometimes conflicted? Do they experience loss? Do they love? Do they debate whether instinct or methodical behavior yields the better result? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
The story line is interesting enough, the acting is first-rate, the direction is tops from the top dog to the second assistant viola instructor of Ms. Keener. We liked the film, which was apparently a big-budget production. That's a shame, because, judging from the box office numbers, it may never cover its costs.
Go see it.
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.
The moments when and idea for a story, the intelligence of a script to
tell it, the sensitivity of the director to make it work, and the cast
of extraordinary actors to make it visual come all too infrequently
these days in the films that cross our theater screens. A LATE QUARTET
is such a complete success on so many levels that it should be
considered a standard for filmmaking excellence. It is cerebral, yes,
it is best appreciated by people who are involved in some way with
classical music even if that be solely as an audience, but the dynamics
of this little 'community' of people drawn together by a lasting
contract to rehearse and perform for the better part of their time and
the effect of physical proximity and the risks of intellectual/artistic
distances have rarely been so exquisitely painted.
The honored Fugue Quartet has been living and performing together for 25 years: first violin Daniel Lerner (Ukrainian American actor Mark Ivanir), second violin Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman), cellist Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken), and violist Juliette Gelbart (Catherine Keener) make such perfect music together that we would never guess their lives are askew. Peter is diagnosed as having Parkinson's Disease and understands that his performing days are now severely limited; the Gelbart's marriage is at risk because of the tatters of time and the dealing with daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots) who reacts to her history of being an alone child by entering into a physical affair with obsessive Daniel and Robert's ill-advised one night stand with the young beautiful Pilar (Liraz Charhi); Robert's surfacing jealousy of wanting to be first violin: the struggle with whether the quartet should disband due to Peter's illness or continue with a new cellist. All of this complex interplay of human relationships is underlined by the quartet's rehearing of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14, opus 131 - a long quartet of seven movements played without interval. It is a sensitively drawn allegory that takes us all the way to the end of the film.
In addition to the bravura acting of the four lead actors there are side stories that are enormously touching: the affair between Alexandra and Daniel, the conflict between Alexandra and her absentee mother (a brilliant scene), the schism between Robert and Juliette as the foundation of their marriage begins to crumble, and the extraordinarily sensitive moment when Peter longs for his deceased wife Miriam - first while listening to a recording of Miriam singing Marietta's Lied from Korngold's opera 'Die Tote Stadt' and then as the image of Miriam (Anne Sofie von Otter) is seen and heard in is mind.
Each of the actors in this masterfully crafted film is astonishingly fine. If there were an Oscar for Ensemble this would have won hands down, but the performances by Christopher Walken (the finest of his career) and Philip Seymour Hoffman are exemplary and the characters Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir and Imogen Poots create are utterly unforgettable. The highest recommendation for this work - it is a film every sensitive person should see.
A string quartet playing together for 25 years is faced with the
difficult choice of replacing their cello player due to him suffering
from the early stages of Parkinson's disease. The predicament ignites a
cascade of crises in which all the old wounds of the past seemed to be
ripped open and where some new ones emerge.
The film is a masterclass in the craftsmanship of acting and casting, and succeeds in making a modest story to truly come alive. Seymour Hoffman once again shows his amazing talent as an actor and the other leads never fail to keep up. But it is Christopher Walken who really steals the show in the role of the ailing cello player with a stunningly perfect delivery that puts many performances currently considered for Oscars and what not, to shame.
The current rating for this film is probably the result of the thinness of the story and perhaps the silliness that occasionally accompanies it. Nonetheless, The film is certainly worthwhile despite the obvious little flaws in the story.
I have recently been diagnosed as having Parkinson's and this movie was
recommended by another person with Parkinson's. I went to the movie to
see if I could relate to what was going on. I was blown away by the
music, the script,the settings and the performances musical or acting.
To go to this movie and miss the whole tragedy of all in the movie is
to miss the obvious.
It isn't about how good the music was played, whether the movie portrayed realism in human interaction, not the obvious flaws of the individuals, nor the film making's errors. To me it was all this as a whole, absolutely faultless in combining the plot with subplots, the tensions, the love, and the compassion of great artists doing what they loved playing wonderfully well.
I have to wonder where the criticism comes from other reviewers. Is it their perfectionist expectations, or is it from a lowered self esteem brought about by never achieving their dreams. And the script was a reflection of their anger.
And, although Parkinson's was part of the plot it was handled in a very thoughtful way. I would be happy if my whole family would go to the movie to see just the way a person so afflicted has to hold their cup with two hands to keep from spilling their drink. And, because it is a well made wonderful movie filled with enjoyment. Only two people left the movie house before the credit were finished.
As the film opens and the four members of the renown, Manhattan based
Fugue string-quartet grace their humble audience and stage, they slowly
and the film cuts.
Like so many movies before it, the film starts where it ends.
Like a cheap, brand new suit or a stuffy high-brow gala, Yaron Zilberman's A Late Quartet is a fine piece of high cultured entertainment with low-brow issues.
Graced with fine classical music and an impeccable musical score from Angelo Badalamenti, the music is just the setting for a simple story of passion and love. But the twist in the narrative as the film unfolds, is not the love and passion the quartet shares for one another, but rather a sizzling passion for the sounds and beauty of classical compositions.
Like any hobby or refined passion, A Late Quartet is a showcase of how music affects the lives of people who allow them to be engulfed by the mesmerizing strings of some of the greatest musicians to have ever lived.
Once together, the Fugue is a metaphor of beauty, wisdom and harmony; consisting of a group of people who are diverse both physically and emotionally. The members of the quartet include violin I and perfectionist Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir); violin II and the emotional impulse of the quartet Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman); viola and the sensible lone female composer Juliette Gelbart (Catherine Keener); and finally the glue and backbone of the quartet, aging cellist veteran and mentor to all three players Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken).
Upon learning of his weary health and the early signs of Parkinson's disease, Peter must share with the quartet his illness and impending future of the group. His influence goes far beyond what he brings to the stage, since he and his recently deceased wife Miriam (Anne Sofie von Otter) raised Juliette from an early age as an orphan. And his teachings of classic music to Daniel as a student makes his departing the quartet emotionally straining and difficult for everyone.
As the option to find another cellist arises and the chance for the group to evolve as they approach their quarter-century anniversary, Robert sees this as an ideal opportunity to play switching roles as violin I and IIwith hesitation from the obsessed Daniel and his nonsupporting wife Juliette.
What transcends from the melodrama between these people and the struggles they face as a group of human beings, putting aside their passion for classical music, is a portrait of love, lost and acceptance. The film plays as a modern-day fable to unleash one's passion and wonderful moments of fulfilling your dreams with realities.
A Late Quartet may be a heightened sense of melodramatic wonder, thanks to the highly emotional and super sensitive Sting Quartet No. 14 by Beethoven in the film's finale or the wonderful sounds of the Brentano String Quartet playing on behalf of the Fugue. Nonetheless, a few things are certain.
A Late Quartet is a masterclass in acting for all four masterful and meticulous actors.
I was expecting "A Late Quartet" to rely on heady themes of classical
musical. Before going into it, I did at least learn some of the
emotions that are involved in Beethoven's Opus 131, and interestingly,
that was probably enough. I still believe that music fans will get a
lot out of it, but it's meant for fans of relationship dramas where the
slightest word or indiscretion can do a number on the players' psyches.
The quartet is made up of cellist Peter (Christopher Walken), first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener) on the viola. Peter has just developed Parkinson's disease and is contemplating leaving the quartet. He's the oldest and the de-facto/emotional leader of the group and he's the only one that seems to have matured past the maturity level of a teenager. That's an insult to the other characters, but it works to the benefit of the film.
Daniel as the first violinist is the musical leader. They look to him for which direction their quartet should go musically. Which leaves us with Robert and Juliette, a married couple. Robert has the ego of a leader and Juliette has the determination of a leader. Their emotional instability is set to wreak havoc on the success of the quartet as well as on the life of their daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots). There are affairs aplenty, passive aggressive snideness, violent outbursts of rage, and so many questionable decisions on everybody's part. Daniel may be the leader, but depending where your sympathies lie he might also be the worst offender.
Above all else, "A Late Quartet" is an actor's film. Powerhouse performances from Hoffman and Ivanir; a fantastic powerful and sympathetic performance by Poots; and an emotionally strong performance by Keener. And somehow Walken fit in nicely in the more subtle and low- key role. Hoffman is funny when Robert's being passive aggressive, scary when he's mad, sympathetic when he's clueless, and incites our rage/passion when he's in the right. Keener manages to invoke the exact opposite responses through those emotions while Daniel walks the thin line between evil and sympathetic through all of his insidious and, at times, kindhearted moves.
To like this film you will need to be able to get invested in all the relationship dynamics going on. But if you're a fan of any of the five principal actors, that should be pretty easy. I'm in love with Philip Seymour Hoffman and while I didn't think it was possible to top his career best performance in "The Master" (2012), he just may have done that here.
I watched this movie out of appreciation for Hoffman. So glad I did.
Independent films such as this one have really begin to open my eyes to
another world of cinema.
It's always great to see new faces and uncover some true talent, like Mark Ivanir. I only saw him in the Good Shepherd, but this performance will remain with me for some time. He seemed very attached to his role.
I recommend this movie to anyone who has a growing interest in classical music. It definitely furthered my interest. Listening to Chopin as I write this. :)
Be warned, the plot seemed slow and at is some times difficult to relate to. However, still a very good movie to open your mind to.
A Late Quartet is a beautiful film in so many ways - what is has to say
about music and aging, about the pure satisfaction of devoting oneself
to an academic, intellectual life - and the sheer effort required to be
great at anything, let alone great at a classical instrument is sincere
and rings true. Morevover, the acting from the ensemble and the
cinematography are exemplary.
I loved this film in so many ways - but while conflict is necessary for any plot, here the multiple conflicts end up feeling a little improbable and manufactured and I just could not quite accept it all as one package.
Having said that this was still one of the most enjoyable dramas I've seen in a while - it's a great topic with a great cast (and a great soundtrack) and well worth your time if you're in the mood for something more thoughtful.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Greetings again from the darkness. This is one of those little indie
flicks that will probably get lost in the shuffle. Director and
co-writer Yaron Zilberman is blessed with an outstanding cast and
delivers a twist to the familiar life lessons and substitute family
It is by no means a great movie, but there are some terrific and wonderful moments thanks mostly to some top notch acting. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanik and Christopher Walken make up a famed string quartet who are approaching their 25th year together. All heck breaks loose within this group that thrives on precision when the patriarch (Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson's. This announcement is followed immediately by a battle of egos between the two violinists (Hoffman and Ivanek), a falling out between the married couple (Keener and Hoffman) when he has an affair, and a break in trust when Ivanek starts a relationship with the much younger daughter (Imogen Poots) of Keener and Hoffman.
If this sounds like a dysfunctional family, that's a very accurate description. These four people are outstanding musicians who made the decision to forgo solo careers and build something even better with the quartet. It's a life lesson that four people working in harmony are much stronger than any one piece. The music is what drives these four despite their other issues. Watching them battle through the challenges is quite similar to any film based on familial shenanigans.
The chamber music is a joy to listen to, though the plot devices are often quite familiar and predictable. Christopher Walken has a couple of scenes that are alone worth the price of admission. Ivanek expertly captures the ego-maniacal first violinist, and Keener is perfectly cast as the one who can't help but wonder how her life turned out so. Mr. Hoffman may be up for an Oscar thanks to his performance in The Master, but it's these "small" roles which I find so complimentary of his talent.
Kind of off topic, there is a scene featuring Wallace Shawn drinking wine as he converses with Walken. Wallace Shawn drinking wine will forever remind me of The Princess Bride and the lesson of going up against a Sicilian when death is involved! To summarize, the individual pieces here are much stronger than the overall film ... just the opposite of the quartet.
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