Longstanding quartet on the verge of change

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Not to be confused with the altogether lighter British name-a-like Quartet, with its clutch of titled thesps, A Late Quartet is an exquisite reminder that independent films are living and breathing beyond LA’s city limits.

It seems that you have to be well trained in the practice of understatement to gain access to the inner sanctum of Sundance superiority. Beethoven helps, as does Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The protagonists in this fugue for strings have been playing together for 25 years. Time for a change? “Unleash your passion!” Robert (Hoffman), 2nd violin, shouts accusingly at Daniel (Mark Ivanir), 1st violin. As an exercise in unleashability Yaron Zilberman’s film has perfect pitch.

Music and betrayal are at the heart of what will become a crisis of confidence. After the oldest member, Peter (Christopher Walken), is diagnosed with early stages of Parkinsons, the others are dismayed by the thought that he may have to be replaced. What follows is even more shocking, like an emotional tsunami capable of washing away all they have created.

These are intelligent people who suppress negative thoughts and behave with decorum, lubricating their relationships with humour and dedication. However, when Juliet (Christine Keener) tells Robert, “I don’t know if I love you; I don’t know if I don’t,” and Peter reminds them that “becoming part of the group means becoming one,” egos are loose and it’s too late to repair the cracks as desire runs riot.

Will opus 131 save them? Will discipline be restored? Will the sky fall? Will snow melt in Central Park?

A beautiful script is complimented by memorable performances from a terrific cast.

The film feels personal, which enhances its sense of inclusion. Painful subjects are not relieved with Prozac. Let’s not forget, Beethoven suffered, too.