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Formerly A Late Quartet, Performance was renamed to avoid confusion with that other musical foursome at the end of their careers. Not that that was likely given the artistically rarified and rather stern tone of this production. What's more it's set in New York where a renown string quartet (not opera stars) are about to learn that cellist Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken) has Parkinson's and little time left to play. The group have performed for over 25 years and his retirement picks at emotional scabs that quickly inflame burning issues of repression, ego and lust. All the juicy stuff.

Some would pay just to watch Phillip Seymour Hoffman floss his teeth, and Performance underscores that sentiment. He's flawless as Robert, second violinist to Mark Ivanir's arrogant, self-appointed leader Daniel, and husband of Catherine Keener's Juliette, the group's violist. Their daughter Sophia (Imogen Poots), tired of being second fiddle, becomes the catalyst which unleashes the quartet's pent up emotion in an explosive display of self-harm.

Hoffman leads a terrific cast with Walken's sad introspection delightfully against type, and a wonderful counterpoint to Poots' youthful effervescence. He makes the most of a great opportunity. Keener is tight while Ivanir is suitably moody if prone to projecting the stereotype of a focused musician, rather than creating something more rounded. Written and directed by Yaron Zilberman (Watermarks, a wartime documentary), Performance has the makings of an art-house treat that is unfortunately struck down by the weight of its own self-importance.

Long passages relate the musician's art, the weight of their craft, the untenable burden of perfection yet the story is really about something much more earthly, much more immediate. Jealousy. While this reveals in a satisfying crescendo, by the time it plays, the passage is a shade off key. Ultimately Performance suffers from its length. There's an explanatory style that speaks of a filmmaker not entirely unshackled from his documentary past, and an editing style that lets him indulge it. Judicious cutting would have freed us from Zilberman's music classes and let the performances speak to something much deeper and more rewarding. It's in there, it's just difficult to hear.


Previewed at Sony Theatrette, Sydney, Wednesday 9 January, 2013
moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks
Yaron Ziberman’s Performance, not to be confused with Nick Roeg’s 1970 classic of the same title, was originally titled A Late Quartet; the title change means you also won’t get confused with Dustin Hoffman’s The Quartet, currently on release here.

Focusing on a triumvirate of themes - friendship, music and illness - the film takes us on an emotional rollercoaster ride alongside the players. Set in New York City on the eve of a world renowned string quartet’s 25th anniversary, we learn that the cellist Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken – Catch Me If You Can / The Deer Hunter), has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He is caught between the decision to either quit before it is too late or to make the first performance of the season, Beethoven’s Opus 131, his last.

His three companions are shocked at the news and, in struggling with this and their own egos, could be described as vying for the title role of ‘Les Miserables’. Jokes aside, this is an eye-opener in the way that gifted, yet dysfunctional, people can behave in such a hothouse environment. Firstly, you have Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master / Doubt), the quartet’s second violinist, who has been nursing a grudge for years as, literally, ‘second fiddle’. He decides to approach first violinist Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir – The Human Resources Manager), with the suggestion that they alternate their roles. Then there is the fourth member of the quartet, Robert’s wife Juliette (Catherine Keener – Capote / Being John Malkovich) who plays the viola; she, too, comes with her own heap of emotional baggage and may have once harboured an emotional attachment to Daniel. Quartets get incestuous, it seems. The story that unfolds is gripping and caught in the fray is Robert and Juliette’s daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots – 28 Weeks Later), who is as equally egoistical and almost as talented as the members of the quartet. As Peter’s condition worsens, so does the future of the group.

There are fine performances from this multi-award winning cast, especially Walken who, despite looking crazier the older he gets, is the most stable of all the characters here; his is the voice of reason in the midst of all the chaos. The interesting thing is how the players are shown in concert. Some fine editing by Yuval Shar (who has a career in docos and TV dramas) and some exacting training by the cast, gives us the impression that they are all consummate musicians. New York City looks fabulous during one of its coldest winters in decades and the pain and beauty of the atmospheric and emotional conditions are captured by the great Angelo Badalamenti’s score. If you love New York, music and some good ol’ drama, then Performance is a must-see; put simply, it is pitch perfect.


Previewed at Sony Theatrette, Sydney, on Thursday 10 January 2013

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A Late Quartet (2012) on IMDb

Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Christopher Walken
Catherine Keener
Mark Ivanir

Yaron Zilberman

Yaron Zilberman



105 minutes

March 14, 2013
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