Directors: Yaron Zilberman
Screenplay: Seth Grossman, Yaron Zilberman
Based on a Story by: Yaron Zilberman
Starring: Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots.
Country: United States
Running Time: 105 mins
BBFC Certificate: 15
A late quartet is the debut offering from first time director Yaron Zilberman. Well shot, in snow covered New York, the warm inside shots and cold outside shots provide a wonderfully contrasting visual atmosphere which aids the story of a famous orchestral quartet, intensely passionate about their craft and seemingly secure in their relationships, and what happens when the seeds of change are planted.
Well acted by a superb cast, it features Christopher Walken as Peter, a cellist, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Robert, second vioin player. Catherine Keener as Juliette, another violin player and Robert’s wife, and Mark Ivanir as Daniel, a hard-nosed perfectionist and lead violin. The other central character is Alexandra, the daughter of Robert and Juliette, played by Imogen Poots.
In an early scene, Peter shares with his class of music students his views of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14, opus 131, a long and complex piece for which he questions whether it is more appropriate to ‘stop, or struggle until the end, even if we’re out of tune’. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, this is the exact question that the remaining members of the quartet must wrestle with throughout the rest of the picture. Peter’s view is that they should enlist a replacement and continue. After all, they have a great body of work and play to appreciative audiences all over the world. But the news of Peter’s illness affects the members in differing ways, and for some it makes them begin to question the way things are.
Juliette experiences intense denial, pleading with Peter to continue playing and hoping they can deal with his increasing symptoms as time goes on, much to Peter’s protestations. Feeling stifled by his role and feeling literally ‘second fiddle’ and unappreciated for his talents by his wife, Robert views Peter’s upcoming retirement as bringing an opportunity for change for him which goes beyond just finding a replacement for Peter. Robert has a one night stand with a sexy latin dancer/singer as a way to unleash his passions. Ironically after an argument in which he also tells Daniel to ‘unleash your passions’, having a dig at the way Daniel religiously follows music and timing note for note without taking risks, Daniel sleeps with Alexandra, Robert and Juliette’s daughter and also his violin student!
There is humour when, at a point Peter announces some success with his medication he’s been taking, meaning he’s ready to play again for a short time, everyone is at each other’s throats. It’s hard to see how the quartet can recover, after intense bitterness, affairs and backstabbing and even a heart to heart scene in which Juliette’s daughter blames her mother for not being there during her childhood and putting her career before her role as a mother.
But, recover it does! In a finale that sees Peter bow out live on stage to be replaced by his protégé, there’s a clearing of air when they close their music books to improvise the piece; finally playing with passion and bending the rules they had never realised had become so stifling.
An interesting look at the struggles and strains but ultimate rewards of relationships, a study of the lows and highs of an obsessive passion for music, and how the change of one piece of a puzzle can affect all other parts so intensely.
Reviewer: Grant Powell