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Originally published Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 3:01 PM

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'A Late Quartet': beautiful music, dissonant relationships

"A Late Quartet," directed by Yaron Zilberman and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Anne Sofie von Otter and Wallace Shawn, is a lovely and engrossing film that beautifully illustrates how music can transport the listener to another world, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald in this review. It's playing at the Egyptian.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

"A Late Quartet," with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots, Anne Sofie von Otter, Madhur Jaffrey, Wallace Shawn. Written and directed by Yaron Zilberman. 105 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Egyptian, Lincoln Square.

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There's a moment late in Yaron Zilberman's drama "A Late Quartet" that's as beautiful an illustration of listening as you're likely to see in any movie this year. Peter (Christopher Walken), a recent widower, is at home, playing a recording by his late opera- singer wife Miriam (Anne Sofie von Otter). As the aria fills the quiet room, we watch Peter as he travels the notes with her, hearing every nuance, living every word. He's rapt and lost, back in a world where his beloved Miriam lived and breathed and sang for him, and it's deeply moving; Walken — and Zilberman — shows us how music can utterly transport us to another place.

When "A Late Quartet" stays with the music, it's a lovely and engrossing film; where it falters is when it wanders off with the characters into their non-music lives. The film is the story of an acclaimed Manhattan string quartet, made up of Peter; Juliet (Catherine Keener); her husband, Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman); and Daniel (Mark Ivanir). As they approach their 25th anniversary as an ensemble, the group is shaken by the news that Peter (who's a generation older than the others) is in the early stages of Parkinson's disease. The ripple effect from this announcement causes Robert to voice dissatisfaction with his position in the group; Robert and Juliet to confront tensions in their marriage; and Daniel to be drawn, unexpectedly, to Robert and Juliet's college-age daughter (Imogen Poots). Relationships within the quartet become strained; will they ever make beautiful music again?

All of this is played out fairly melodramatically, with resolutions that aren't always believable, but you stick with "A Late Quartet" for the thoughtful performances (particularly the gentle, restrained Walken) and the joy of the music. Zilberman's especially good at capturing the electric quiet of a concert before the music begins; showing how the quartet, while playing, communicates without words; reminding us of the magic that can be created by a single string and bow.

"A Late Quartet" begins and ends with a performance of Beethoven's Opus 131 String Quartet in C-Sharp Minor; it feels like a beautiful, fleeting gift to its audience, soaring above the movie as if watching over it, steering it onto the right course.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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