The "Fugue" String Quartet have played together for a quarter of a century, so it is a shock when the founder member, cellist Peter, announces that he has early-stage Parkinson's disease so will need to retire. Reacting with a mixture of denial and doubts as to whether they can continue without him, or wish to do so, the bombshell releases negative forces in the rest of the group - long-suppressed rivalry, jealousies and resentment surface abruptly.
With beautiful filming of Central Park in the snow and the interior of spacious old brownstone apartments, the main characters all put in convincing and moving performances, not least in their ability to appear to play string instruments, although I have no idea how a skilled musician would view this. The scenes are based on the rehearsal of Beethoven's last String Quartet, Opus 131, a fitting background to the theme of the film. It seems to convey very convincingly the joys and sacrifices of life in a close-knit quartet in which one must sink one's individuality to achieve the benefits of collaboration and the chance to perform far more, at a more satisfying level, than might be the case as a soloist - a point I had not considered.
Although it may appeal mainly to older viewers who are close to experiencing the effects of ageing and intimations of mortality themselves, there is also a good deal of humour with some tense moments, as normally highly disciplined musicians act out of character and indulge themselves with potentially disastrous consequences.
on 3 August 2013
A high quality film with high quality actors about high quality music. I found this intelligent film riveting. I was interested in all the characters. Watching the film was itself almost like listening to a piece of music: A new theme is introduced in a disturbing minor chord which has all sorts of repercussions on long-established quiet and settled motifs.
All the actors are great. Walken is superb and utterly believable in his role. And Philip Seymour Hoffman - never has the pain of playing second fiddle been so wonderfully expressed. This man in my view is the greatest film actor in the world at the moment.
on 6 April 2013
...Christopher Walken absolutely holds this film together. It is the core of the film and is quite wonderful. I have always liked him as an actor but this is exceptional - particularly since on the surface he does so little. Masterly acting.
I found the whole film both enjoyable and very moving - yes, a few quibbles here and there (some of the emotional drama was a bit over the top) but minor. Only Imogen Poots was - for me - a little off centre given the role she ended up playing - but the rest of the cast is very, very well realised.
The surprise to me was Mark Ivanir who I didn't know - although the face was familiar. He performs with such intensity that it burns off the screen. He has a long record but I simply have missed most of his performances.
And the setting is great. Manhattan in winter - not the usual spring and summer scenes. Here is cold and snowy. Central Park has never looked better. Clever contrasting of the warm, carefully lit interiors with the snowy exteriors. And many scenes are set in New York institutions like the Frick, Time Warner Centre, The Metropolitan Museum and I thought it was the East Village but my wife thought it was the West. Who cares. It was lovely to be reminded of it.
I really enjoyed it. The audience was spellbound and everyone sat through the lengthy end credit sequence without moving listening to the...MUSIC. And there was applause at the end - which simply doesn't often happen in our Oxford cinema full of OAPs like me. And there was discreet use of handkerchiefs as well. Go see it.
This is an unusual and enjoyable film about the breakup - possibly - of a twenty-five years intense professional and personal relationship, that of the four members of a string quartet who have met virtually daily throughout that time in the course of their work ; more - the second violinist (Philip Seymouir Hoffman) and violist (Katherine Keener) are married and have a daughter, herself an outstandingly promising violinist. Preparations are made for the 25th anniversary concert, but the 'cellist (Christopher Walken), aware of slight signs of failing powers, is diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, which means that sooner or later - almost certainly sooner - he will be unable to perform. Unexpected tensions are uncovered when he makes his announceement, which is devastating for all of them. He was 30 years older than they, with an established career when he approached them as students to join him in the Fugue Quartet, and he has been their father fugure and mentor from the start, though he is now primus inter pares. More than anything he hopes that the Quartet will continue, with a new cellist, but to his great distress deep, serious divisions which have nothing to do with his illness appear. What will happen? They all owe it to him to continue if possible, but it seems that the relationship has been strained beyond breaking point.
However, the final concert of the established quartet, with the 'cellist, does take place, and it forms a charming and convincing ending to the film. Has the damage been healed? We cannot tell, though we hope it has.
This film is well made, with excellent performances from the four main players, Walken, Hoffman, Keener and Mark Ivanir. All have been well coached in the simulation of string playing, and though they are clearly not the players whom we hear (it's the Brentano String Quartet, and they are first-rate), they are convincing enough for us to suspend our disbelief. Imogen Potts, who plays the promising daughter, is not as good at that but is otherwise excellent in a rather difficult role. There is a gentle, elegaic tone about the whole film, but with an appropriate undercurrent of disquiet. New York is beautifully filmed and there are memorable scenes in, for example, Central Park, Sothebys and an art gallery (presumably the Metropolitan). The musical background is (mostly) Beethoven's Quartet Op. 131,among the greatest and most mysterious of all string quartets, and it is hauntingly used in the film.
I was not quite convinced by the tensions that develop, on which I cannot be specific without giving too much away, for two reasons : it seemed strange that there should not have been signs of these prior to the 'cellist's announcement, and there was an element of melodrama in the way they played out. Not five stars from me, then, but four, but it is a good film, an unusual one, and well worth seeing.
on 7 August 2013
As a life long chamber musician this was insightful and great fun. Philip Seymour Hoffman's acting lifts it to tremendous levels. Imogen Poots is the other real plus factor. The faking is not excruciating - but not great. Christopher Walken is the least adept. For outstanding faking, look at Melanie Laurent in The Concert - great film.
There are some great apercus about the art of string quartet playing. The comments on what the various instruments bring to the ensemble is insightful. The Brentano's interpretation of Op 131 deserve longer illustration. Very enjoyable.
A Late Quartet is a highly civilised film, one that charts the inner lives of four musicians in a somewhat telescopic but basically convincing way. It unfolds all the tensions and dramas that may well exist between people of passionate temperament even if these things do not necessarily come to the surface as much as here, or so much at the same time. It also convinces you that they really are musicians, and uses Beethoven's Quartet op. 131 in a way that is a summation of their aspirations and also plays up certain aspects of the plot towards the end in a way that is cohesive and ambiguous. In fact the ending is beautifully poised ... It also suggests very well the psychological undercurrents that work in a particular way in the music as well, and give an ensemble its unique quality. We hear this in performances in real life, but don't generally get to see the private face of these things as we do here. The actors are all excellent, Philip Seymour Hoffman being quite moving and offset very well by the other two smaller instruments that box him in on either side. In personal terms he goes through a kind of crisis with both of them ... Catherine Keener makes a beautiful and enigmatic viola-player, all in half-tones as befits the general tenor of the film. (She also recalls the fact that the viola-player of the Takacs Quartet - possibly the finest in the world - is also a woman in an otherwise male ensemble, who also sits on the outside right of the group.) The central figure in a way is cellist Christopher Walken, who makes a deep impression just sitting listening to a recording of his late wife singing, or telling a group of students about his meetings with Pablo Casals; these moments have something magical. The first violinist (Mark Ivanir) is well contrasted to Seymour Hoffman both physically, in playing style and in temperament. The film announces its refined tone straight off with a quotation from T.S.Eliot, and its visual language is likewise singular in its evocation of a wintry Central Park and different cultural spaces in New York, setting these against dimly lit interiors that have a certain cushioned softness. By the end I felt moved and uplifted by this film. Just occasionally I felt it strain a little to contain one or two more melodramatic moments, but I should certainly want to see it again, and in its taking on of an un-modish subject - classical music is hardly up there with gangster activities in the celluloid world - it deserves the widest possible audience. In fact it is surely the best film on the subject since the French film Un Coeur En Hiver, where the music is similarly used to try to get at our deepest strivings and sense of what life is.
Brilliant script, beautiful music, superb acting. Time just evaporated for me watching this film, which I would rate the best I have seen since Lost in Translation. It's definitely for people with a brain, and a heart... not for action and sfx fans who like escapist pap. Not a moment passes without some profoundly problematic emotional consequence of life itself being expressed, often silently, just by tiny facial expressions and gestures... that's how brilliant the acting is.
on 26 October 2013
I was disappointed on inquiry to be told that my local cinema would not be showing A Late Quartet due to distributor problems. The film had received very good reviews in the press and it sounded like my kind of film. One critic said it was a change to find a 'film for grown ups' and I would say that remark summed it up completely. The story revolves around the leader of the quartet who is diagnosed with parkinsons disease. He realises that his playing days are over and that a replacement must be found. There is a love triangle thread interwoven and it is important for the viewer to get all the family relationships within the quartet sorted out in his/her mind as soon as possible. Happily with a DVD it is always possible to recap.
There is some music for string quartets in the film but the passages are not overlong so if you don't care for classical music it will not interfere with your enjoyment of the film. I found one of the interesting parts of this film to be the explanation of the dynamics of the quartet. Being totally ignorant of how they work, I learned quite a bit along the way about the role of the 1st and 2nd violin. I never did find a cinema that was showing the film but the DVD compensates very well. Just don't expect car chases, gratuitous violence or much in the way of sex.
A string quartet, considered by some to be the optimal ensemble in classical music, is a delicate balancing act. Four people work together, closely, for years, rehearsing, traveling and performing. Some of the best string quartets last for decades, but undoubtedly at the price of many compromises. Unlike an orchestra, where there are a large number of musicians and a leader - the conductor - the string quartet's size makes the interpersonal relations much more intense.
In this poignant film, we see the Fugue Quartet after 25 years of performing together reach a moment of crisis. The cellist, played by Christopher Walken, has a health problem and decides to retire. This brings up a number of conflicts among the four musicians, who are closely knit in many ways. Second violin (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is married to viola (Catherine Keener), there is conflict between first violin (Mark Ivanir) and second violin, and there are a number of subtle links among the musicians, and the daughter of second violin and viola.
The title of this movie is a play on words. It's about a "late" - deceased - quartet, or more precisely one on the brink of death, but it's also about one of Beethoven's late quartets, the op. 131 quartet, which serves as a leitmotif throughout the film. The choice of the name of the quartet, the Fugue Quartet, is also apt: the story itself proceeds like a fugue, with the various threads of love and conflict among the group are subtly woven together until a finale which ties together many threads in a brilliant resolution. This is a very moving film, though it requires a bit of patience as the different "voices" of the fugue are exposed then developed, before the story harmonizes. But it's well worth sticking with if as the relationships among these characters become more clear.
The acting is excellent, and the direction subtle and understated. Christopher Walken shows extreme restraint throughout, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener are excellent as the married couple living and working together. Mark Ivanir, an actor I was not familiar with, plays an inflexible musician, who learns, in the end, that he, too, needs to give a bit to allow the ensemble to continue.
A beautiful film, with a subtle story, that is memorable and moving.
"A Late Quartet" is a fantastic,captivating film featuring some superb acting , great characterisation as well as an engrossing storyline. The film follows the fortunes of an ageing ,world renowned ,New York based string quartet as it verges on self implosion after a series of dramatic events. Firstly the cellist is diagnosed with an illness that may force his retirement, secondly two of the quartet are married and an extra marital liaison causes a deep rift between them , thirdly the second violinist wants to share the first violinist role and finally the first violinist embarks on a torrid love affair with the child of the married couple. It's a bit like an upmarket version of a soap opera at times ! As I said , the acting is phenomenal and if , like myself , you're a big fan of classical music you will enjoy both the music as well as taking a look behind the scenes of the New York music world and life in a top string quartet. This is the best film that I have seen so far in 2013. Really enjoyable.