Edited by Crystal Abidin
Director: Yaron Zilberman
Running Time: 105 minutes
Year of Release: 2012
The tranquil surrounds of the Camelot Outdoor Cinema provided an appropriately atmospheric setting for Performance, the most recent film directed by newcomer Yaron Zilberman. Marvellous performances by acting heavyweights lend gravitas, but a clunky script, rife with stereotypes and awkward dialogue, ensures a film full of potential never quite manages to generate cinema magic.
Performance explores the final season of a celebrated New York string quartet. Struggling to deal with the ramifications of a shocking disclosure by cellist Peter (Christopher Walken), the deep-seated insecurities and hidden desires of the remaining three members (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Ivanir and Catherine Keenan) slowly rise to the surface, irrevocably shattering the illusory harmony of the quartet.
The film is beautifully paced with the structure echoing Beethoven’s notoriously difficult 131 String Quartet in C-sharp minor, and the events on screen unfold slowly as each member succumbs to temptation and forsakes the controlled sanctuary of the quartet to fulfil their own longings.
From the dalliance with a dancer conducted by Seymour Hoffman’s henpecked husband to the passionate affair Ivanir’s egoist violinist has with the daughter of another member of the quartet, it becomes apparent that the members are finally indulging their own egos after decades of working as a unit.
As they slowly betray each other and the tensions and grudges accumulated after two decades of performing together are painfully revealed, the pace rises to an almost frenetic crescendo, culminating in an explosive argument in the refined surrounds of Peter’s apartment where each member turns on the other.
Heavy-handed symbolism, such as convoluted anecdotes about music instruments and their qualities, and a reliance on overused plot conventions occasionally veer the core material into melodrama, and though the performances by the main cast are superb, the film’s faults are too prevalent to be completely transcended.
Regardless of its faults, however, with its meticulous and occasionally moving exploration of both music and human nature Performance is an enjoyable watch for both classical and contemporary music enthusiasts alike.