Sunday, 27 January 2013

Scene 45: Film Review, Quartet

This afternoon I went to see the film Quartet - a British film about a retirement home for musicians, based on the play by Ronald Harwood and directed by Dustin HoffmanNote that this is the first film Hoffman has directed, or at least the first one he has been credited as directing. According to IMDb he also directed a film called Straight Time (1978) along with the director Ulu Grosbard

As I mentioned, the film is set at a home for retired musicians of all disclipines - some sing, some play instruments - and the film opens with the residents preparing for the home's annual concert on Verdi's birthday, which really needs to raise funds, because the home is starting to struggle finanically. 

Amongst the residents are three friends, who used to be opera singers - Cissy, who is sweet but has started to go senile, Wilf, who is flirty with all the ladies and sensible, quiet Reggie - played respectively by Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly and Tom Courtenay. 

Everything changes for the trio however with the arrival of Jean, played by Maggie Smith. An opera singer as well, she is an old friend and colleague of theirs, and has a painful history with Reggie. It then becomes a question of whether Reggie and Jean will reconcile, and whether Jean can be persuaded to sing in the annual show with the other three, as a quartet. 

That's the basic summary anyway. The film itself feels a bit rambling. There seems to be quite a lot of details and little things happening in the background, which does make the film feel a tad distracted sometimes - and I noticed a couple of scenes, that in my opinion, were essentially just flavour and  unnecessary to the central plot. Nonetheless these types of details and wanderings were enjoyable - such as two of the residents practising a cheerful song. 

Some of the these details, I think, were also used to point out the problems of becoming old. An issue the film does not try and filch away.  In particular is the moment a clarinet player is wheeled away by medics, right infront of all the residents eating breakfast. The moment seems to be a reminder that our protagonists don't have forever. Similarly, though Cissy's senility makes her sweet and childish, it is also shown to be a struggle sometimes for those who care for her. In one scene there is a painful moment where she doesn't seem to recognise Wilf or Reggie and a nurse has to remind her. 

I must also mention the location and the cinematography, which were both brilliant. The house, inside and out, looks gorgeous. The film uses the interiors an surrounding parkland and gardens to its advantage, and the film is full of gentle colours and golden light. The wet, rolling parkland and trees, which their brown leaves also hints at an autumnal feel, which I think is rather appropriate for a film about people in their twilight years. 

The shot angles and compisitions were good too. One of my particular favourites being a beautifully composed shot involving a balcony and two windows. In the scene Reggie is standing on a balcony, we see Jean through her window, which he can obviously see too, and then, between Reggie and Jean is another window to another room, where a solo cellist is mournfully playing. 

I could go on, but it is getting late. So I shall summarise - all in all, it was a enjoyable film. It had drama, lovely locations, some good one liners, a nice use of classical music and a fantastic cast - some of whom where actual musicians, and some actors I have not seen on screen for ages, but I was glad to see again. It was at once reflective and unfilching about old age and yet also hopeful and warm, without being sentimental. 

On the negative side, Billy Connolly's character was a bit irritating with his constant flirting, and there was one scene where he almost fainted which also annoyed me. It was a whole short scene, which seemed to be of importance, and based on what normally happens when people show signs of illness in films - I was expecting him to collapse later on, perhaps during the concert. So, when he didn't I felt a bit cheated. Perhaps reading to much in to it, but I felt that scene created an expectation that was never met. Like the 'chewing gum on the mantle piece' idea in novel writing, where if you draw the reader's attention to something in a book, making it appear important, a reader will generally expect to you to return to it later on.

So, my verdict is - a nice film, not amazing, but not bad. 

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