Film review: PERFORMANCE, from Built For Speed

Not to be confused with Nic Roeg’s freaky 1970 counter-culture film, Performance depicts the traumas afflicting a revered American string quartet as they confront human frailty in its many forms.  The film was originally titled A Late Quartet but this was changed in Australia to avoid confusion with Dustin Hoffman’s film Quartet which also focused on a group of classical musicians.

Having played for nearly 25 years, the string quartet known as The Fugue prepare for a major concert tour.  On the eve of the tour, however, the quartet’s cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) learns he has Parkinson’s disease.  As Peter is the group’s lynchpin his illness and faltering abilities see the quartet begin to unravel and bitter suppressed conflicts surface, particularly between husband wife Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Katherine keener.  The only thread keeping the four members together is their love of the music by Beethoven, Haydyn and others that they have played for so many years.

Like the chamber music the quartet plays so brilliantly, the film is quiet, tense and austere with occasional outbursts of emotion.  Performance at times recalls Michael Haneke’s Amour with its stark visual style, restrained tone, emphasis on high culture (particularly classical music) and its focus on ageing and debilitating illness although it’s no where near as harrowing as Amour.

Surprisingly, without altering that much-impersonated voice, so often associated with gangsters and psychopaths, Walken manages to infuse his character with intellect and quiet dignity. The scenes in which Peter is forced to accept his fate are particularly moving.    As his fiery, emotional opposite, Hoffman is once again terrific.  In fact all the performances throughout this film are excellent including Mark Ivanir as the sullen and often infuriatingly arrogant perfectionist from the quartet who bullies and occasionally sleeps with his violin students.

Oddly, though, for a film about people creating great art in harmony, Performance is more a collection of fine moments than a completely cohesive work and overall seems less than the sum of its parts.  Still, it’s an intelligent, mature film with touching humanity and some magnificent music.


Nick’s rating: Four stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Yaron Zilberman.

Release date: 14th March 2013.

Running time: 105 mins.


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