Friday, November 2, 2012

A String of Discordant Notes in 'A Late Quartet'

"A Late Quartet" is interesting on several levels.

It has going for it its musical aspect. European classical music along the lines of Beethoven’s arduous Opus 131. A glimpse into the process and interior lives of the players in the form of top musicians who probably studied at the Julliards, Berklees and Oberlins of the world. New York is apt as the setting of this rarefied milieu in that it is one of the world’s most superlative cities, home to the highest of high culture and the lowest of low culture.

Hanging in the air like a resounding note, threatening the demise of the fictional Fugue String Quartet, is the medical diagnosis at the center of “A Late Quartet.” If the diagnosis won’t be the foursome's undoing though, surely it will be the drama surrounding these very fine, refined folk, for it descends to the level of reality TV, albeit without a surfeit of cussing and coarseness. (See video above.)

A few examples: Second violinist gives first violinist to know that the former wants the position of the latter; voila-playing wife of second violinist believes her spouse is being an utter ass and tells him, employing very civilized tones to do so; outraged, second violinist has an extramarital affair; first violinist – for lack of anything better to do? – begins sleeping with the daughter of second violinist and viola player. It’s all handled with dignity, as these thing go.

Reality TV – particularly the variety that features wives, ex-wives, mistresses, shorties and others of their ilk – could borrow a page from “A Late Quartet” on how to depict misbehavior on a colossal level without casting anyone in the role of the most bilious buffoon in doing so. The independent film opens in New York and Los Angeles today. Also opening in the United States today after its world premiere at the 50th New York Film Festival is "Flight." The film stars Denzel Washington as a pilot who safely lands a plane only to have questioned some of his actions before that fateful event. (

Meanwhile, perhaps these characters in "A Late Quartet) can pull off petulance with aplomb because they are played by real acting talent. Christopher Walken is quartet leader and cellist Peter who has been diagnosed with a debilitating disease; he tends to stay out of the fray. As Peter, the actor proves that he can play subtlety as well as insanity when the role calls for it as this one clearly does, while in “Seven Psychopaths” the role of Hans and countless others he has undertaken clearly do not.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (second violinist Robert) is fresh off a masterful performance in “The Master” ( For his part, he has not hit a false note, dating to “Capote.” Rounding out the major players in “A Late Quartet” are Catherine Keener (viola player Juliette), Wallace Shawn (first violinist Gideon) and Imogen Poots (Alexandra, daughter of Robert and Juliette).

Catherine Keener and Wallace Shawn as half of the team in “A Late Quartet.” Photo from WestEnd Films.

It’s a pity that “A Late Quartet,” directed by Yaron Zilberman and based on a story of this music lover, won’t make it to many of the metroplexes. Alas, it is more of an arthouse film.

It is not nearly often enough that intelligent films such as "A Late Quartet – the melodrama, not withstanding – reach the masses in the United States, huge consumers of reality TV. The masses could also benefit by its example.

“A Late Quartet” is rated R for language and some sexuality. Visit to learn more about “A Late Quartet.

1 comment :

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