In the movies, opera audiences are all dressed-up swells; subscribers snore away at the Philharmonic; divas are all fat; and chamber music concerts are somber affairs played by & for dour intellectuals who’ve never tried a Bud Lite. It’s nonsense, but Yaron Zilberman’s debut feature buys right into the myth. (Or maybe he’s buying into the myth of late Ingmar Bergman: SCENES FROM A STRING QUARTET?) Here, four classical musicians discover long pasted over personality fissures starting to crack open when their eldest member (‘cellist Christopher Walken) puts in for retirement after learning he has early stage Parkinson’s. After that revelation, every scene is so overwrought with incestuous/internecine ramifications (affairs, professional rivalries, playing standards, perfectionism vs. artistic freedom) that the only possible way to handle it would be as a comedy. Alas, Zilberman hasn’t the faintest sense of humor (more Noah Baumbach than Woody Allen), piling on so much angst you dread the start of each new scene. At least, Walken gets a nice moment telling tales on Pablo Casals to a class of string students; there’s brief relief on a Frick Museum visit; and a teeny bit of fun when the trembly daughter of the group’s second violin & violist (Philip Seymore Hoffman & Catherine Keener) offers up a fast analysis of the four quartet members that’s exactly like Charlton Heston going on about his four chariot stallions in BEN-HUR/’59.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Most films get uptight & stuffy when classical music enters as plot, but Bernard Herrmann in HANGOVER SQUARE/’45 (with a mini-piano concerto) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold (with a mini-‘cello concerto) in DECEPTION/’46 never got sniffy about melodrama.
CONTEST: Speaking of Korngold . . . in a brief appearance, the great mezzo-soprano Anne Sophie Van Otter (playing Walken’s late wife) is seen & heard in a brief operatic excerpt. First heard in 1920, her aria is closely connected to Hollywood not only thru its composer, but also thru that opera’s plot which closely mirrors a famous film. Name the opera and its doppelgänger film to win a MAKSQUIBS DVD Write-Up of your choosing.