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By Jess Fenton
10th March 2013

‘Performance’ is a film that follows the same structure as Beethoven’s Opus 131, mimicking its ups and downs and focusing on the idea that, in the duration of the 40 minute music piece, the instruments will inevitably fall out of tune. So what does one do? Stop to retune or spend the rest of the piece trying to compensate for not only your own instrument’s failings but those of your fellow musicians as well?

A famous American string quartet has just celebrated its 25th year together. In the lead up to their new season, their cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) announces that he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and will therefore have to bow out of the quartet. This news sends a shockwave through the group. Viola player Juliette (Catherine Keener) is distressed at the idea of loosing her friend, colleague, mentor and father-figure. Her husband Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sees this shakeup as an opportunity to step out from the shadows of their leader Daniel (Mark Ivanir) and finally become first violinist, further fracturing the dynamic of the now precarious group and his marriage. Meanwhile, passionate current first violinist Daniel is now teaching Robert and Juliette’s college-aged daughter Alexandra, and both are finding that they're being drawn to more than just each others musical talents.


The best way to describe ‘Performance’ in a horribly ineloquent yet completely apt way is this: I just don’t buy it. The film tries to convince its audience that these four people have rehearsed, played, lived, travelled and even fallen in love together for 25 years, and yet they don’t seem to know each other at all. They display outright resentment, and each person is willing to throw their entire history together away all too easily.

The music is rich, beautiful and used well throughout. The supremely talented cast do what they do best and leave you thankful for finally being introduced to the wonder that is Mark Ivanir, but the story’s depth is a farce - we’re coming in right at the end, when in actual fact it’s the 25 years that lead up to this point in time that’s the real story, robbing the film of that tension and rich history, leaving it feeling superficial and fake.

The tool of using Opus 131 to parallel the story is interesting and even brilliant if you follow classical music - but how many people can truly say that and actually pick the distinction? So instead of this being a quiet nod and undertone to the film, its frequently and quite literally referenced throughout, causing it to become trite and quickly lose its appeal.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s good stuff here, it’s just simply not great - but worth a look for music lovers who want to peer behind the velvet curtain of a practicing New York quartet.

RELEASE DATE: 14/03/2013
RUN TIME: 1h 45m
CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman - Robert
Catherine Keener - Juliette Gelbart
Christopher Walken - Peter Mitchell
Jeremy Northam
DIRECTOR: Yaron Zilberman
WRITERS: Seth Grossman
Yaron Zilberman
PRODUCERS: Vanessa Coifman
David Faigenblum
Emmanuel Michael
Tamar Sela
Mandy Tagger
Yaron Zilberman
SCORE: Angelo Badalamenti
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