TIFF 2012: Near-Perfect Harmony in A Late Quartet and Song For Marion

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Mark Ivanir, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener and Philip Seymour Hoffman play in A Late Quartet.
  • Mark Ivanir, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener and Philip Seymour Hoffman play in A Late Quartet.

At the midway point of the movie marathon that is the Toronto International Film Festival, a musical interlude was quite welcome in the form of two new premieres, each celebrating the song of life.

A Late Quartet sounds as beautiful as it looks ... and it looks pretty great. Filmed spectacularly and set on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, A Late Quartet examines the professional and personal relationships of a world-class string quartet, played with precision by Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir.

On the eve of of its 25th anniversary season, the quartet faces a crisis: It's cellist (Walken) has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Additionally, the musicians' secret alliances, ambitions and weaknesses are all about to come crashing down while they continue to make beautiful music together—particularly Beethoven's Opus 131. Unfortunately, Beethoven indicated that the piece must be played "attacca," that is to say, without a pause between its seven movements. That is nearly 40 minutes without a break. And that is also nearly impossible for someone struggling with the early stages of a neurological disorder.

Ultimately, A Late Quartet is a reminder that none of us are soloists. True, we have individual talents and skills, but they're useless unless they're shared and pricess when they're in harmony.

Terence Stamp takes center stage to perform a Song For Marion.
  • Terence Stamp takes center stage to perform Song For Marion.

Another film, Song For Marion, uses music as a vehicle for redemption and reconciliation.

Song For Marion is quite predictable and even sentimental, but it never tries to be anything more than a joyful piece of entertainment, and it succeeds wonderfully.

Vanessa Redgrave is Marion, dying of cancer but living to sing. She's an integral part of her senior center's choir, but her curmudgeon husband Arthur (the brilliant Terence Stamp) wants none of it. But his unbridled love for Marion and his inability to cope with her mortality leads him to center stage. It's quite touching and it's Stamp's best performance in decades.

From its first few frames, I knew exactly where Song For Marion was heading. And I was happy to go along for the ride.

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