A Late Quartet is a 2012 film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Christopher Walken, and Imogen Poots; directed by Yaron Zilberman.
I don’t know if it was my particular mood when I watched this film, or the fact that I’ve been thinking I need to see the classical arts more often, but A Late Quartet really hit the spot. Hoffman, Keener, Ivanir, and Walken play Robert, Juliette, Daniel, and Peter, who comprise a world-renowned quartet preparing for their 25th season together. As they come together to practice before their season, Peter can’t quite seem to play like he used to. He speaks to a doctor, and learns that he is in the early stages of Parkinson’s. He decides, that with the help of some medicine, the first show of the season will be his last and farewell. Juliette takes this news especially hard, as Peter and his wife took her in and raised her after her parents died. Although they all know and agree on someone who could replace Peter, Juliette still struggles with whether the quartet should continue at all. Robert, who is also married to Juliette, takes this opportunity of a change in sound a new person would provide to put forth his desire to share the first chair role with Daniel rather than continue to play second chair. Both Daniel and Juliette disagree, as Daniel’s rigid precision and playing style tends to be a stronger suit to first chair. When Robert and Juliette eventually get into an argument over Juliette not backing Robert up, he gets angry and sleeps with a woman he had been jogging with. Juliette finds out, and promptly tells Robert he needs to move out.
Throughout this, Peter continues to struggle with his Parkinson’s as he prepares to get his skill to a point where he can play in the concert. Daniel has also been helping instruct Alex (Robert and Juliette’s daughter), and after taking a trip to a stable to pick up strings for a bow, Alex kisses him. He holds back, but later goes to see her after having an argument with Robert over first chair. He realizes he loves Alex, but while he is visiting her Juliette stops by. Alex is forced to leave through the window, but it sparks another argument between Alex and Juliette over Alex’s parents putting their music careers before raising their daughter. When the quartet gets together to practice again, there is a tension as they play. Peter stops the practice, and Robert finds out about Daniel and Alex. Robert leaves, and the quartet appears to dissolve just as Peter begins to get back to strength. Alex later ends things with Daniel, to keep the quartet together despite Daniel’s love for her, and the quartet comes together to play the concert. The heartbreaking moment comes when, during the performance, Peter stops playing as he realizes he can’t keep up with his partners. He addresses the audience, makes his farewell, and his replacement comes on stage to finish.
It’s a drama through and through, and a juicy one at that (if the synopsis didn’t quite get that across). But what really stands out above everything, which is the point, is the passion and dedication to the music. They all care much more about creating this beautiful sound more than they do about each other, and because they care it affects them all immensely when something changes how that sound is made. Robert cheats on Juliette out of anger not because he doesn’t care about her, but because he cares more about the quartet and his role in it. Watching passionate people speak or perform what they are passionate about is always engrossing. It’s also fascinating how the play style of each person mirrors their personality. Daniel plays rigid and precise, with a relentless drive to perfection, which matches how he approaches life. He’s so rigid, that even he is surprised when he realizes he loves someone else possibly more than he loves his music. Robert feels much more, is more raw and emotional, and that echoes in his performance. He puts his passion into the music, rather than sticking precisely to what’s on the page in front of him. Juliette is quiet, but provides a calming and differing tone than the men in the quartet, demonstrated in her parts with the viola. And Peter, the loving patriarch, rounds out the group and pulls it together on the cello.
With this many heavy hitters staring in the film, expectations can be high (Hoffman, Keener, and Walken have all won Academy Awards), and A Late Quartet did not disappoint. A Late Quartet is currently playing at Art House Cinema 502 through December 20th, so be sure to check their website for showtimes.