Members of a world-renowned string quartet struggle to stay together in the face of death, competing egos, and insuppressible lust.Members of a world-renowned string quartet struggle to stay together in the face of death, competing egos, and insuppressible lust.Members of a world-renowned string quartet struggle to stay together in the face of death, competing egos, and insuppressible lust.
A Late Quartet is a moving, thought-provoking, entertaining and thoroughly rewarding journey through the final act of four friends' musical life together. From the opening scene to the final chords, the music sweeps us along the emotional roller-coaster of four friends with more complicated relationships than the members of ABBA and stirs in us feelings of sadness, contempt and judgment: How could s/he? What were they thinking?
In their 25th year together, the world-renowned Fugue String Quartet endeavour to mark the momentous occasion with a remarkable tour, but rehearsals falter when their cellist, Peter (Christopher Walken), announces he is in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, placing the quartet's tour and future in jeopardy. The concern each of the other members experiences acts as a catalyst for their own clumsy actions, and what has been a solid unit for a quarter of a century fractures with maximum pain, frustration and anger as resentments rise.
A Late Quartet is truly an ensemble piece and, no, I'm not trying to be funny. To elevate any of the four above the others would be to miss the point of the film entirely. Just as the characters have their position in the quartet (and this becomes a plot strand), so, too, do the actors have their place; but their roles are different, not greater or lesser than another's.
Walken might initially be deemed the principal as the recently bereaved elder statesman of the group, and Peter's desperation as both his body and his life's work stop functioning is heartbreaking. He is impotent in both matters and battles to find the mature way to seize control of his own destiny again. He might have won an Oscar for The Deer Hunter, but this is his most powerful, unselfconscious performance in many years.
Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener) are husband and wife, second violin and viola respectively. Theirs is a marriage of mutual respect but as Robert deals with the quartet's crisis in his own naive, foolish manner and Juliette lashes out in response, the existence of genuine love in their companionship is brought into question as each defends themselves with verbal attacks, one bludgeoning, the other stabbing. There is nothing 'Hollywood' about their performances and the rawness both characters expose in each other is palpable to any viewer living in the real world. A word once spoken cannot return and an action performed cannot be undone.
In terms of star power in the cast, Mark Ivanir is way down the list, his career largely highlighted by video game acting, but as first violinist, Daniel, he is a very powerful force both in the quartet and the film. His intensity is a large part of what keeps the quartet together but it easily presents itself as a blunt weapon of stubbornness and arrogance. But, damaging though his stubbornness might be, for much of A Late Quartet it seems to be the one constant that keeps them together. Alas, not even Daniel is immune to the crisis and he, too, falters foolishly, convincingly and cringingly.
The weak link in A Late Affair, and the principal reason it falls just below perfection, is Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later, Fright Night) as Robert and Juliette's daughter, Alexandra. A violinist under the tutelage of Daniel, she is precocious, spoilt, selfish and a brat in a young woman's body. That Alexandra is unpleasant is not the issue; she adds another dimension to the film and background to each member of the quartet. That Poots pouts (yes, you may smile at that one) almost unendingly is. She fails to give us a full picture. How can anyone love this creature? She is two-dimensionally awful and has slipped ever so slightly over the boundaries of subtlety and into pastiche. It's a small criticism, but it's a bothersome issue.
Writer/director Yaron Zilberman (his only other credit to date is multi-award-winning documentary Watermarks) has give the word a striking and beautiful feature in A Late Quartet. He has written his characters realistically and directs them with tenderness, evidently caring deeply about them (well, perhaps not Alexandra) and insisting on truth in story and performance. He has now directed as often as Dustin Hoffman but his quartet resonates with his audience and remains indelible in our minds in a way that Hoffman can only forlornly hope for his own fading musicians.
Sit quietly through the credits and beyond, even if the cinema goes dark and you are left alone. A Late Quartet is not a film to rush away from and is an experience to embrace, silently. Take note, trio of chatterboxes at The Watershed!
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- Apr 23, 2013