53rd Chicago Int’l Film Fest #21: “The Quartet (Kvarteto)” (Czech Republic)

“The Quartet (Kvarteto)” (Czech Republic)
Directed by Miroslav Krobot

kvarteto-987987_denik-630-e1508355253409I must admit that when I first completed my screening of this bizarre little film, I threw my hands up in the air and thought, “what on earth was the point”? But looking back, I am forced to admit it has stayed with me in a way that many of this year’s Festival films has not. Does that mean it’s good? No, not necessarily. But I do think it means that you might find something in it to hang your hat on.

Basically a treatise on small group dynamics in the world of the (very obscure) arts, the film revolves around four characters in a modern chamber music quartet and their romantic and platonic relationships…to each other, to their tiny world of friends & family and to their craft. So far so good. Alas, MUCH of the film is taken up with some of the most pretentious “art” ever devised. So pretentious, in fact, that I have no idea if director Miroslav Krobot is commenting on that pretentiousness, or believes it to be of some import. If it’s the former, than job well done! I found much of the humor to exist in the performance bits, especially the performance art pieces. However, if Krobot is trying to make a case for these pieces as escapist WORKS of art…well then…I can’t pretend to understand. Perhaps if I spoke Czech, it would be more clear. As it stands, I have no clue.

Which isn’t to say the film doesn’t have merits outside of this question…which is why it has stayed with me. The ebb and flow of small groups of people working within the structure and constrictions of creativity is something I do know about, and I found that to be the most successful aspect of the film. And, not just in the romantic, but in how we bring our everyday shit in to the process. In how we incorporate…or protect…each other from our pasts, present, and images of our futures. How we disappoint each other, lift one another, and find joy in common understanding. All of that is in there. Unfortunately, there’s simply a lot of borderline dross in between.

The cast, however, is not to blame for any of it. Jaroslav Plesl, as the irreverent non-conforming violinist, is terrific. Easily showcasing the most layers in a minimalist script, he’s fairly impossible to take your eyes off. Lukas Melnik is less successful as his misanthropic counterpoint. To be fair, he’s not given a whole lot to work with, although the scenes with his not-so-proud mother do crackle. Cellist, and object of affection, Lenka Krobotova is very human, and the weight of the film’s plot, based as it is on the ups and downs of her affections, is something she pulls off with ease. Finally, there is the “Kramer” of the bunch, the hilarious, Zdenek Julina. It is his stoic, nerdy, and utterly charming nature that gives us permission to laugh out loud at the proceedings.

This is not a film for everyone…it’s barely a film for anyone. BUT, that, in and of itself, is a reason for those who love small foreign films to give it a watch. In fact, I actually hope to view it a second time. Maybe by then I’ll know whether it’s okay to laugh out loud at the music bits…as I did in the theater…and was shushed. One person’s art…

No English-subbed trailer, but this teaser will give you a REALLY good idea of what you’re in for, regardless…

Written on 11/15/2017

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