11/09/2012 09:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Popcorn Preview: A Late Quartet

Film: A Late Quartet (2012)
Cast includes: Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Imogen Poots (Fright Night), Catherine Keener (Capote), Mark Ivanir (The Good Shepherd), Liraz Charhi (Fair Game)
Director: Yaron Zilberman (Watermarks)
Genre: Drama (105 minutes)

Daniel's sheet music for Beethoven's Opus 131 is covered with notations, which he uses faithfully. "Time present and time past are both present in time future," says Peter, quoting T. S. Eliot, which leads to a discussion of Opus 131 and Beethoven's Late Strings Quartet with his college class:

Seven movements, instead of the normal four. And they're all connected. For the musicians it means playing straight through without pauses. Our instruments must in time go out of tune, each in its own quite different way. Are we to stop? Or struggle to adjust to each other up to the end... even if we are out of tune?

It's not an abstract question. Peter, Daniel, Juliette and Robert are getting ready for their 25th season together as the Fugue Quartet, opening with Beethoven's Late Quartet. Robert, the second violin, is getting weary of doing things Daniel's way. Even the notations on the sheet music are irritating... although Daniel's anal approach has certainly worked for them so far. But that said, there's no official leader in a quartet. Each role is unique and interdependent, as are their personal relationships. Robert and Juliette are a couple. Their daughter Alex is in Peter's class and will soon be taking private lessons from Daniel. Robert explains the role of second violin to Pilar, a woman he often meets on his morning run: "It's every bit as important as the role of first violin... it's just different." "Don't you have the urge to play the solo part once in a while?" she asks.

Peter is 30 years older than the others, so it's inevitable that he'd be the first to leave the quartet. When his playing seems off in rehearsal, we learn that he already has a doctor's appointment. The diagnosis of early-stage Parkinson's comes as quite a shock to the others, but Peter's already given some thought to his departure. He believes Nina would be a good replacement -- and he'd like their performance of Beethoven's Late Quartet to be his farewell performance, assuming the meds work well enough. The news affects each of the quartet members in a different way, but Robert sees it as an opportunity to suggest a change in roles. He'd like to play first violin, at least once in a while.

Because of the complex and interrelated nature of a quartet, changes can have a ripple effect. Although many of the issues are discussed in the language of music, most are universal. So while the film has a rather highbrow tone, you don't need music knowledge to enjoy it, but the music is indeed enjoyable. It has an excellent cast and many compelling moments. Naturally, Philip Seymour Hoffman gives another standout performance. But once you've figured out the lay of the land, some of the plot turns may seem a bit predictable. Still the music metaphors give us an interesting perspective on issues such as status, ego, lust dependence and change. Interestingly, Peter's Parkinson's provides another meaningful metaphor: "With Parkinson's everything gets smaller -- our movement, our posture, even our voice.... We need to keep pushing the boundaries out." Peter's departure seems to be doing just that.

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
A Parkinson's diagnosis threatens the continuation of a tight-knit quartet

Popcorn Profile
Rated: R (Sexual content)
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking

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