Friday, March 22, 2013

"Don't die until you're dead!"

"Don't die until you're dead" - the theme of the movie Quartet as encapsulated for its director, Dustin Hoffman, by Billy Connelly, one of the quartet that take stage center in this lovely movie that I am recommending to anyone over 50, and anyone under 50 who is caring for aging loved ones.

Quartet tells the story of four elderly British opera singers, who reunite in a home for retired, needy British musicians.  The reunion is strained, for three of the quartet have been there awhile, have created new patterns, new friendships, have settled in.  Then, quite unexpectedly, the fourth, the diva, the soprano played as only Maggie Smith could, arrives bringing her phonograph, the albums of her glory days, and a hefty dose of discordance and unfinished business.

The members of the quartet are veteran British actors and actresses who play off one another with a grace and sensitivity that helps you believe they could have performed together decades ago.  As you are asked to believe they did - the performance, the quartet from Rigoletto.  A performance they are asked to repeat for a concert to be given on the anniversary of Verdi's birthday, designed not only to raise money for the home, but to acknowledge the contribution and heritage of the home's residents.

The challenges that each member faces in order to perform are representative of the challenges many of us have faced already or will most likely face in the future - health issues, unfinished business with relationships, loss of skills and a sense of identity, loneliness.  All are treated with compassion and dignity.  Never harsh, never maudlin, but also never pollyannish.  Humorous, but not at anyone's expense.

The cast is supported by musicians whose scenes of practice and performance are as touching as those of the quartet.  Hoffman reported in an AARP interview that some of the musicians had not been asked to perform for over 30 years and were so grateful to be included that they showed up at 6 in the morning and would rehearse for 14 hours.  The music itself is worth the admission, and in case you are not a huge fan of classical music, not to worry.  My husband isn't either, and he enjoyed the film as much as I did.  Just watching the musicians, their concentration, their dedication and the sheer joy of making music together and having their skills enjoyed and applauded was such a pleasure.

So - though I understand Billy Connelly's synopsis and smiled when I read it, I also think this movie deals with themes of friendship and forgiveness, courage and possibility.  With characters who are aging, but not old.  I recommend it because I think you would enjoy it and also because I want to support these lovely, quiet films that celebrate rather than denigrate.  That tell simple stories well, that don't rely on special effects and gimmicks.  That leave you feeling better, more hopeful than when you entered the theater.  That could even leave you clapping in appreciation, as Quartet inspired our matinee audience. 

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