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The power of four in music on view at Toronto International Film Festival

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Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chirstopher Walken and Catherine Keener star in A Late Quartet. The Brentano Quartet did the actual playing — and they’re in town for a Music Toronto recital on Sept. 13.

In a strange serendipidy, the 2012 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival screens two movies featuring musical quartets — one in opera, the other in chamber music — made up of starry casts. Fortunately for Toronto, both films are likely to return to the city’s big screens in regular release.

OPERA: Quartet

A grand seniors’ home filled with retired opera singers and musicians is a setting ripe for all sorts of drama as well as chuckles — especially when one of those aging divos and divas is Dame Maggie Smith.

Filling out her particular four-way dynamic are three former vocal colleagues played by Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly. They are supposed to be preparing the retirement home’s annual tribute to Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday when Smith’s character enters stage left, turning everything upside down.

We all know Smith does well in grand manor houses in the countryside.

It’s interesting that Dustin Hoffman chose to make his directorial début with the adaptation of a British play (by Ronald Harwood) using largely British cast. The buzz means that the screenings on Sunday (6 p.m. at the Elgin) and Monday (12:30 p.m. at the Winter Garden) are sold out.

Alliance is the Canadian distributor, so we can be sure to see it in regular movie houses. The 95-minute movie goes into wide release in the U.K. on January 4.


The opera movie is all about chewing scenery and having lots of fun with the material. But, if it’s any good, A Late Quartet promises to be the kind of film that leaves a lasting impression on the soul with a true-to-life slice of what goes on when the audience isn’t listening.

Israeli-American filmmaker Yaron Zilberman, who usually does documentaries, has mined the pleasure as well as potential anger and sorrow inside the dynamic of the classical string quartet based in New York City. The music comes courtesy of Beethoven’s late quartets. The catalyst for the plot is the chamber ensemble’s oldest member being told he has Parkinson’s disease.

Christopher Walker, mercifully not playing a nutbar, is the senior musician, the quartet’s cellist. His three colleagues are Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir.

This 105-minute film is also sold out for its screenings on Monday (6 p.m. at the Elgin) and Wednesday (5 p.m., Scotiabank Theatre). Mongrel is the Canadian distributor, and there is Oscar buzz, so expect an imminent post-TIFF release.

The Guardian posted a trailer here this morning.

These four Hollywood heavyweights didn’t learn to play stringed instruments for the film. The actual heavy lifting was done by the Brentano Quartet, the resident chamber ensemble at Princeton University, which is going to be in Toronto next Thursday (Sept. 13) to kick off the new Music Toronto season with a programme of new works that reference the masters of the quartet genre.

You’ll find the details here.

John Terauds

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