Director: Yaron Zilberman
Screenwriters: Yaron Zilberman and Seth Grosman
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Runtime: 105 mins.
Australian release date: 14 March 2013
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 roller-coaster 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), 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 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), with the suggestion that they alternate their roles. Then there is the fourth member of the quartet, Robert’s wife Juliette (Catherine Keener) 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), 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, Performance is a must-see; put simply, it is pitch perfect.