A Late Quartet
Film Title: a late quartet
Director: Yaron Zilberman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots, Wallace Shawn
Running Time: 105 min
In the countdown to their 25th anniversary, the Fugue String Quartet sit down to rehearse Beethoven’s Op 131. The seven movements of String Quartet No 14 in C sharp minor must be played without pause but, some 4,000 performances into their career, their beloved cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) can only manage a few imperfect bars.
Peter’s lack of form, it soon transpires, is due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. As the cellist, the big heart of the outfit, embarks on treatment and sets out to recruit his replacement, the remaining trio are seen to implode.
Violinist Juliette (Catherine Keener) and her second-chair violinist husband Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) immediately fall out over Robert’s insistence that first and second violin must now alternate. Their prickly protégé daughter, Alexandra (Imogen Poots), exacerbates the situation with rants against mother and a highly inappropriate romance. An unofficial alliance between Juliette and first-chair violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir) serves as a catalyst for further melodrama.
You can’t fault any of the performances in Yaron Zilberman’s classical-themed soap: a superb quintet (including Ms Poots) enliven an overly contrived drama: heck, the actors even play the instruments until Beethoven’s demands and longer passages require the Brentano String Quartet to take over. The music is impeccable and the Upper East Side setting adds a Woody Allen gloss. But the plot is rigid, humourless and altogether convenient.
For all the qualities onscreen – Frederick Elmes’s lensing, Beethoven’s biggest guns, gargantuan thespian talents, restrained direction – one never quite buys A Late Quartet . The marriage and marital difficulties within the titular fugue is underexplored and underdeveloped. The backbiting and interpersonal frictions never translate into fireworks. The sanitised representation of Parkinson’s fails to engage with the condition in a meaningful way.