The first of two new films this season about classical music, Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet
focuses on the internecine struggles of The Fugue Quartet, a fictional Manhattan-based string quartet whose members show the strain of playing together for decades as they prepare to perform Beethoven’s massive 14th string quartet, Op. 131. The eldest member, cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) is suffering early symptoms of Parkinson’s and must retire; second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), tired of playing second fiddle, wants to alternate parts with Daniel (Mark Ivanir), the egocentric lead violinist. Robert believes his wife, violist Juliette (Catherine Keener) underestimates his talent and prefers Daniel, who is “mentoring” the couple’s budding violinist daughter (Imogen Poots). Zilberman and Seth Grossman’s thoughtful, philosophical script is exceptionally observant about music and the preoccupations of musicians, and the mostly fine cast creditably simulate professional playing (the music was dubbed by the Brentano Quartet). The most authentic elements of the low-key drama are those centering on issues of musicianship rather than the superfluous melodramas (infidelity, face-slapping arguments) the writers felt obliged to provide. (Local note: Clevelanders Alan Bise and Bruce Egre produced and engineered the film’s excellent sound. Cedar Lee Theatre.