Yaron Zilberman’s 2012 film, A Late Quartet, is one of the best films ever made about classical music and musicians.
This small scale, poignant drama written by Zilberman and Seth Grossman takes up the story of members of an internationally renowned string quartet who have been friends and colleagues for decades when suddenly they are confronted with the harsh realities of illness, death, competing egos and libidos. The challenges of widowhood, Parkinson’s disease, infidelity and lust threaten to destroy the bonds they have forged and the legacy their music has created. Ultimately, it is the will to make beautiful music and the commitment to the ensemble ideal that overcome the pain and helps to heal the wounds.
The outstanding cast is, itself, a tribute to the ensemble concept. Christopher Walken, as the grieving, ailing Peter Mitchell, projects a resigned and restrained dignity as he attempts to come to terms with the loss of his wife, his diagnosis, and his failing musical powers. Catherine Keener, as Juliette Gelbart, exudes a quiet grace and empathy as she struggles to make sense of her husband’s infidelity and ambition and her daughter’s incautious love life. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Juliette’s husband Robert with a weary frustration and aching longing for the recognition he feels he has been denied. His silent misery and his ultimate sacrifice of self to the group make his flawed, but decent husband, father, and artist deeply touching. Mark Ivanir gives an egotistical edge to Daniel Lerner, whose wayward seduction of his student, the Gelbhart’s daughter, threatens to derail a lifetime of friendship. Excellent cameos by Wallace Shawn, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Madhur Jaffrey contribute to the expressive texture of the film.
Underscored with the pathos of Beethoven’s string quartets, (principally Op. 131 completed in the year before the composer died), which are played brilliantly by the Brentano String Quartet, A Late Quartet offers a stirring and redemptive tale about musicians struggling to balance the demands of their artistry and their humanity.