Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Late Quartet (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
A Late Quartet

Documentary filmmaker Yaron Zilberman's (Watermarks) new film "A Late Quartet" is full of soap opera-like melodrama. But amazingly, it beguiles in  spite of all, mainly due to the honesty and appeal of its four actors: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivaner, who is the most convincing of all, precisely because his dramatic history does not carry any iconic baggage from other films. Ivaner, who is mainly known as a Tv actor, does a wonderful job here and I look forward to seeing more of him.
"A Late Quartet," can best be described as "Husbands and Wives" and "My Dinner with Andre" with a little suspense thrown in, and all of it blends in an amiable, easy mix.
We have two friends and one couple who have worked together as driven musicians for over twenty years. Peter, (played by Walken) is the patriarch of the quartet who receives some devastating medical news and plans for retirement. We have Robert, a passive-aggressive, shifty violin player (Hoffman) who thinks rather highly of himself and his all consuming wife, Juliette (Keener) who is controlling and ├╝ber-serious, yet vexes herself with issues of self-esteem with her viola and parenting. And last but not least, the obsessive and brooding Daniel (Ivaner) who occupies first seat at the violin.
This is a heady mix.
A score of sneaky behavior ensues with virtually everyone, even Robert and Juliette's Lolita-like daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots). All Beethoven boo-hooing and spousal sarcasm aside, this film is solid and genuine. We feel the glue of friendships. And while it is true that Keener doesn't really exhibit any new acting chops here (in many films she has played the "serious one") and Hoffman still has his usual "Hoffman" persona : the know-it-all egotist who is just a bit dishonest and manipulative, the chemistry between the characters never fails to entertain. 
The most intriguing aspect to me about the film is that it manages to transform the quartet into a MMA arena of emotions. Walken treats his consummate cellist like a very real, very  human Godfather awaiting being put out by the tomato plants. At his moment on stage, when giving a kiss to his ghostly wife, his voice is gravelly and Brandoesque When Keener takes the violin from Hoffman, I half expected her to bludgeon  him with it. And in perhaps the most direct echo, as Mark Ivaner ( complete with five-o-clock shadow), is painstakingly crafting a violin bow with lathes and saws and various measuring machines, the cinematography by Frederick Elmes (Blue Velvet) transforms the scene into something that could be inserted into "The American" with Ivaner as George Clooney.The noir aspect is also helped by Walken's stroking cello (all  of the actors are actually playing instruments, no small endeavor) and the wonderful gray-toned score by David Lynch's composer Angelo Badalamenti. 
Like a musical composition, "A Late Quartet" moves in swells with smoothness and a good deal of necessary  pauses and although it has some  Beethoven & The Beautiful trappings, we are never overwhelmed by the "oh no, he didn't" disease. 
A human pathos travels through the threat of schmaltz like a single vibration.
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