Friday, 10 April 2015
A Late Quartet
With a title like that you would expect the film to be about music. Well it is and it isn't. As much as music, or any of the creative arts, are conduits which allow an exploration of metaphors revealing deeper emotions, so Beethoven's opus 131, his String Quartet No. 14 becomes the metaphor for the relationships between the members of the Fugue Quartet. With an ensemble cast of this quality you know it has to be more than just a film about music. It is a film about fidelity, truth, creative expression and above all how one thing relates to another.
The world renowned Fugue Quartet have been wowing audiences world-wide for 25 years, so it is a little odd that all their demons should manifest themselves at the same time wreaking havoc on the group's dynamics and tearing relationships apart.
As musicians, each member of the quartet is a virtuoso performer. However, they have chosen for a quarter of a century to play together, to meld their creative and technical expertise into forging one super maker of music - the string quartet. It works because the individual puts the collective before themselves. All this begins to unravel when events force the leader to retire. There are many philosophical mumblings and metaphysical ruminations that punctuate the film such as
"Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable. Or say that the end precedes the beginning, and the end and the beginning were always there before the beginning and after the end. And all is always now."
These words are spoken by the cellist and leader of the quartet Peter Mitchell played with astounding depth and sensitivity by Christopher Walken who imbues the character with great emotional capital. Beethoven's opus 131 unusually has seven movements rather than the conventional four. Written near the end of his life and seen as one long passage of music through which he attempted to express his own view of life and the meaning of the universe, so the performing of the piece becomes a metaphor for the fragmenting quartet to try and do the same.
There are the usual creative tensions between following the score with meticulous precision and allowing a free and creative expression of the music. Tension between first and second fiddle, tension between a cold and frigid wife and a warm and passionate flamenco dancer with whom the husband has a one night stand. Tension between the couple and their 25 year old daughter falling for her teacher - the fourth member of the quartet. The whole thing is almost incestuous and as pointed out by the daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots) quite 'anal'.
The whole story only involves about eight actors and is set in a wintry New York City with wonderful scenes of a deserted and snow covered Central Park under clear blue skies. A further metaphor for the cold and frozen relationships that 25 years of following the elusive dream of delivering the perfect performance has created.
This film is a drama, a melodrama and also a tragedy - comedy is absent. The metaphor of the quartet with it's ability to harmonise and play off dissonance echoes the lives of its members. Walken gives a tour-de-force performance but then not far behind are Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. There is also an appearance from Madhur Jaffrey - I had no idea she was also an actress!
This film is in many ways predictable and the plot far from exciting. It does however contain performances of such depth and conviction that it had me in tears two or three times. It has the ability, for me at least, to connect the viewer with the situations of the characters and so draw them into the stories that are unfolding. That is after all why we go to the cinema or buy the disc and why story is such an important thing that helps us all to make meaning. I'll give it 8/10.