Sunday, 14 August 2022

Virtuoso performances hit all the right notes

IF you have ever seen a string quartet playing live you may well have come away thinking there can be

IF you have ever seen a string quartet playing live you may well have come away thinking there can be nothing so civilised nor sophisticated as four people in formal dress playing classical music in perfect harmony.

Chamber musicians have an other-worldly, celestial aura about them, as if the very air they breathe is pure and perfect, making them immune from all the horrid human squalor the rest of us have to wade through. After seeing this film, you will think differently. This is the story of The Fugue, a string quartet that has been top of their game in their native New York for 25 years.

As they shape up for the new season, doyen and cellist Peter drops a bombshell he has the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and feels obliged to retire. While the others try to convince him to play one last concert, his news proves the catalyst for all kinds of simmering resentments in the group to boil to the surface.

Second violin Robert, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is suffering from a mid-life crisis and sees the re-alignment of the group as a chance for him to take a more prominent role. He is tired of literally playing second fiddle, particularly as his wife, Juliette, the viola player, was once involved with the first violin, Daniel.

As the cracks start to deepen in the couple’s marriage, the situation is made worse by their resentful and princessy daughter Alexandra, an up-and-coming musician herself, who feels sidelined and unloved, and gets back at her parents in the most spiteful way possible.

As the group struggles to continue with their rehearsals of Beethoven’s String Quartet Number 14, opus 131 for a final concert, we see that these four people are just as human as the rest of us.

They may spend their waking hours debating in calm tones whether a particular phrase merits an up-bow or a down-bow, and the merits of reading music or playing from memory, but beneath their patina of intellectuality they are wresting with overwhelming feelings of jealousy, lust and inflated egos.

The question is whether they will be able to sublimate their own emotions in order to give their all to the quartet, and ultimately to the music. There are superb performances from all four major players.

Mark Ivaniv is suave and cool as ‘”Mr Perfect” first violin, and Christopher Walken is a very credible older musician struggling to deal with the degenerative disease that will not only destroy his career but also rob him of his dignity and independence.

But it’s Hoffman who really shines in this movie. Unlike most Hollywood stars he is fat and forty, jowly and paunchy, but a brilliant character actor.

You can’t help but love him as the passionate and flawed artist.

There have been lots of movies lately about getting old, and dealing with all the inconveniences that come with it illness, failing faculties, losing loved ones and the inevitability of death.But this one knocks spots off the rest.

The script is first rate, it makes you laugh and makes you cry, but above all it makes you think.

Lesley Potter

Film: A Late Quartet

Certificate: (15)

Director: Yaron Zilberman Starring: Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Philip Seymour Hoffman

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