The highly-regarded Fugue String Quartet struggles to stay together as they mark their 25th anniversary. When their patriarch, the cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it throws the future of the famed group - first chair violinist, the still single Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second chair violinist and his wife viola player, Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener) - into question. His attempt to find a replacement player and organise rehearsals for their upcoming concert bring up unresolved issues and grievances, including issues involving Robert and Juliette's talented violinist daughter Alexander (Imogen Poots).
Review by Louise Keller:
The dynamic of a chamber string quartet's pursuit to create music as one becomes a window into the relationships, egos and ambitions of its members, in this drama in which time and timing plays a vital role. As one key element shifts, so too does the dynamic of the group: namely the inter-relationships and the music. Director Yaron Zilberman's film use music as a backdrop as well as a catalyst, resulting in an intense experience.
Some may be put off by the weighted concentration of its musical element, above and beyond the plot points of illness, infidelity and playing second fiddle - literally as well as metaphorically. Others will be enthralled by its poetic, literary and musical similes. I fall in the latter category, although at times the film feels as though every element has been thought through so carefully and metaphors carefully constructed, that there is a lack of spontaneity. Like its central piece of music (Beethoven's Opus 131 in C# minor), Performance is a challenging and thought provoking film, its greatest assets being its four outstanding performances.
The impact of the diagnosis of cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) with Parkinson's Disease is the trigger that disturbs the balance and harmony of the Fugue Quartet's existence - on and off the stage. There are changing tempos and rhythms as Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) allows his suppressed ambitions known. His marriage flounders and suddenly harmony turns to dischord. All the performances are superb, hitting their notes to perfection. Walken has a suitably soulful presence; Hoffman is the epitome of frustration; Catherine Keener is emotionally vulnerable as Robert's wife Juliette, while Mark Ivanir is charismatic as the first violinist whose life is the relentless pursuit of precision. Imogen Poots, who plays Robert and Juliette's talented violinist daughter Alexandra is stunning; the scene in which she confronts her mother with accusations and bitterness is one of the film's most powerful moments.
Zilberman has carefully constructed the finale - almost too carefully - with scores of drama and tension in the climactic scene when there is no option but for music to take precedence over everything else.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Cinema devoid of metaphor is usually rather dull, but Yaron Zilberman's excess of metaphor makes Performance less supple than it might have been. The characters in the film form a long standing and successful string quartet based in New York - where only the best survive, so these players are outstanding. Musicians, that is. As people, they are less perfect, and as a quartet they are as susceptible to ego and temper and lust as anyone else.
But the screenplay also explores deeper, personal issues, including the impact of a 25 year career as touring musos on the daughter, Alexander (Imogen Poots) who has one explosive scene blanketing her mother Juliette (Catherine Keener) in guilt. It's a raw scene that equals the intensity of an outburst by Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) when he discovers his daughter's secret affair.
The screenplay piles on the misjudgements that Robert makes as well as piling up the parallels between playing in harmony to make beautiful music, suppressing the ego.
Christopher Walken is outstanding as the ageing cellist who has been the anchor for the quartet but now is diagnosed with early Parkinson's; this is the disease used by the filmmakers to dismember the quartet and create the tensions that propel the story.
It's a bravura ensemble piece of acting, so much so it tends to hide the weaknesses of the screenplay and the green edges of debuting feature director Zilberman's handling of the material - which he co-wrote. The target audience of 50 + will respond with melancholy understanding and musical pleasure, as Beethoven's complex, glorious and addictive Opus 131 gets a workout.
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aka A Late Quartet
CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Imogen Poots, Mark Ivanir, Wallace Shawn, Liraz Charhi, Madhur Jaffrey
PRODUCER: Yaron Zilberman, Vanessa Coifman, David Faigenblum, Emanuel Michael, Tamar Sela, Mandy Tagger
DIRECTOR: Yaron Zilberman
SCRIPT: Yaron Zilberman, Seth Grossman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frederick Elmes
EDITOR: Yuval Shar
MUSIC: Angela Badalamenti
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Kasarda
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 14, 2013