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The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » April 25, 2013
Film review
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Quartet
April 25, 2013   
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Twilight, a detective film from 1998, starred 70-year-old James Garner as a police officer and 73-year-old Paul Newman as a detective who exchanged words that may have shocked 1990s’ audiences: “Has your prostate started acting up yet?” “No.” “Oh well, you’ve got that to look forward to.”

Twilight was one of the first detective movies in Hollywood history to cast elderly actors in nearly all the roles, including the good guys, the bad guys, the criminals and the victims. Critics and viewers started wondering if, given the aging population in developed countries, the average age of at least some movie characters would be raised to attract viewers in a similar demographic bracket. In the years that followed, senior actors were indeed featured more prominently in movies, even in action flicks. One example was Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys from 2000, in which a spacecraft on a mission to save mankind was flown by a crew of Garner (72), Eastwood (70), Donald Sutherland (65) and Tommy Lee Jones (just 54). One of the most memorable scenes shows the astronauts undergoing a health check and cheat a NASA committee about the findings, especially the eye check results.

This year’s Academy Award for best foreign-language film went to Amour directed by Austria’s Michael Haneke. The drama about two aging musicians starred 83-year-old Jean-Louis Trintignant as a husband looking after a terminally ill wife played by 86-year-old Emmanuelle Riva. The actress was nominated for the Academy Award for the role, becoming the oldest nominee in the category in Oscar history.

The success of Amour clearly shows that senior citizens and their problems are becoming an increasingly popular subject in mainstream cinema. The trend continues in Quartet, the directorial debut of 73-year-old Dustin Hoffman, once an A-list Hollywood actor who has two Academy Awards under his belt for Barry Levinson’s Rain Man from 1998 and Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer from 1979.

Unlike Amour, Quartet is a rather uplifting comedy, but what the two titles have in common are old people as the protagonists. This time, they are retired musicians who are living out the autumn of their years in a retirement home for artists. Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay—The Dresser, Doctor Zhivago, Billy Liar), Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly—The Last Samurai, The Boondock Saints, The X Files: I Want to Believe) and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins—Shirley Valentine) are former opera singers who used to perform the famous Bella figlia dell’amore (Beautiful Daughter of Love) from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto as their signature number. The retirement home’s management wants them to sing it once more during a fundraising concert performed by the home’s other residents on Oct. 10, the day Verdi was born. The problem is that the fourth, missing singer is Jean Horton (Maggie Smith—Harry Potter movies, Gosford Park, A Room with a View), the former wife of Paget. The two have not been on speaking terms for years and when one day Horton arrives in the home, the quiet ambiance of the place is disrupted.

Quite predictably, the strongest point of Quartet is the compelling performances by the four veteran actors along with Michael Gambon (Harry Potter movies, The Insider, Sleepy Hollow). Credit is due to 79-year-old Ronald Hardwood for the script. Hardwood is an Academy Award winner for The Pianist by Roman Polanski and the Quartet movie is, in fact, an adaptation of a theater play Hardwood wrote himself. The movie also benefits greatly from the fact that many of the retirement home’s other residents are played by real retired musicians, which gives a sense of authenticity and a special warmth to the story.
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