Performance (originally A Late Quartet) **** (out of five)
There are some magnificent moments in Performance (called A Late Quartet overseas, and obviously renamed to avoid confusion with the recent release Quartet). A chilly, precise, adult drama, set in a snow-covered New York among professional musicians of the highest order, Yaron Zilberman’s debut feature film is alternately restrained and full of intense drama, augmented by spectacular – and often spectacularly sad – string music.
Amongst the members of a hugely respected, intensely dedicated string quartet, Fugue, ruptures begin to appear, seemingly set off by one member’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. The turbulence that follow is both generally human and highly specific to the rigid, studied life of the professional classical musician.
Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Imogen Poots and Ukrainian actor Mark Ivanir all give pitch-perfect performances, grounding the heavy emotion in realism and understatement. The cinematography (Frederick Elmes) is stunning; I’ve never seen New York shot quite like this. The whole thing feels very European; this is a simple plot expertly told, allowing space between confrontation, silence before eruption, the film’s pace and measure is so precise, I wouldn’t be surprised if it follows the structure of one of the gorgeous musical pieces played by the quartet. Well worth seeing, at a cinema with a great sound system.