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Quartet - The Merchant Ivory Collection
Quartet - The Merchant Ivory Collection
Actors: Alan Bates, Maggie Smith, Isabelle Adjani, Anthony Higgins, Pierre Clémenti
Director: James Ivory
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
R     2004     1hr 41min

A story of a girl who, adrift with her feckless husband amid the literati of glittering Paris in the 1920s, becomes entrapped by a rich and sybaritic English couple. From the wistful melancholy of the autobiographical nov...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Alan Bates, Maggie Smith, Isabelle Adjani, Anthony Higgins, Pierre Clémenti
Director: James Ivory
Creators: James Ivory, Connie Kaiserman, Humbert Balsan, Ismail Merchant, Jean Rhys, Michel Maingois, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 02/24/2004
Original Release Date: 10/25/1981
Theatrical Release Date: 10/25/1981
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 41min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 11
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

An overlooked Merchant/Ivory treasure
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Since its release in the early 1980s, Quartet hasn't been remembered as much as some of their other films. Thats a shame because Quartet is one of their finer works. A very engrossing drama about mind control and deceit. As one would expect from M & A, the attention to detail in recreating the roaring 20's is fabulous. Alan Bates does a wonderful job as H.B., the controlling maniac disguised as a gentleman. Maggie Smith is heartbreaking as the passive wife who tries desperately to cling to her husband despite his infidelities. But its Isabelle Adjani who steals the show. Her character's development from innocent, to arrogant, to ignorant makes Quartet memorable."
J. MACKENZIE | Taconic, CT USA | 08/15/2004
(1 out of 5 stars)

"Merchant-Ivory have never been more self-conscious or grasping for, for , what...a decent script by the usually capable Ruth Prawer Jhabvala? Here, she was either out-of-town - or completely overdosed on absinthe.

A more disastrous film one has not encountered in a very long while. Truly embarrassing for the astoundingly gifted Isabell Adjani - who, here, is reduced to whining, clownlishly awkward self-dubbing of her English. The late Alan Bates serves up a ridiculous performance as her paramour. Maggie Smith tries hard but comes up laughable. Anthony Higgins is the one source of interest in the entire thing - and yet has such little screen time that he is genuinely better off not being remembered as having appeared in this fiasco.

The liner notes proudly claim that they spent only 1.8 milion dollars on this 'event'.

I - or you - could have filmed this very small and lacklustre story for a tenth of these monies, and come up with something more real.

Avoid this at all costs..."
Details on the DVD from Home Vision (2004)
pac | usa | 12/05/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Note: Rating is for DVD only, not the film itself. As details on this DVD transfer of "Quartet" are pretty thin to date, both from Amazon and also existing customer reviews, you should know that this release was produced in association with The Criterion Collection.

Part of Home Vision's 2003-2005 Merchant Ivory Collection, the DVD was released under the "supervision of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory," according to the liner notes. As you would expect from a collaboration of Criterion and Merchant/Ivory, obvious care was taken with the DVD transfer and package.

The anamorphically enhanced digital transfer comes from the original 35mm interpositive and is presented in the OAR 1.78:1. Most dirt and debris have been cleaned up so viewers can more fully appreciate Pierre Lhomme's cinematography. Although much of the time colors are dark and muted, moments of rich color are also fully rendered here. Not without flaws, but this transfer appears very solid to someone who never saw the film during roadshow theatrical release in 1981.

The audio transfer is limited to Dolby Digital mono from the film's original 35mm magnetic soundtrack master. The film is largely dialogue driven with selected musical moments. So while it is mostly clear and listenable, there is no indication from the liner notes that efforts were made to complete a sound restoration beyond using the original elements.

For subtitles there are a few options. The DVD default is subtitles for the French dialogue only. There are also options for full subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as no subtitles at all.

There is really not much here in terms of extras, but the main offering is an all too brief 11-minute interview about the production with Merchant, Ivory, and the script writer, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The film's composer, Richard Robbins, is also included in this segment. The DVD has the original trailer and some promos for other titles in the Merchant Ivory Collection. An essay on the film by the author Robert Emmet Long ("The Films of Merchant Ivory") and DVD production liner notes are also included.

For international buyers, note that this DVD is coded Region 1 only."
Not quite a Quartet, simply a Maggie Smith solo...
A. Gyurisin | Wet, Wild, Wonderful Virginia | 08/30/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)

"When one sees the production/direction team of Merchant & Ivory, there comes with that name a level of sophistication, or one could say an air of dedication. This team is notorious for creating detailed cinema focused inward, toward our characters, instead of outside influences. Having recently viewed "The Ballad of the Sad Café", a character driven story about a rural, staunch feminist played by Vanessa Redgrave, the Merchant & Ivory bar had been set. The "Sad Café" was beautifully filmed, powerfully acted by Redgrave, and the story kept me glued to the couch. It was a challenging film that introduced me to this dynamic duo. Now, nearly three months later, "Quartet" arrived at my door. Eager to explore another outing with Merchant and Ivory, I eagerly jumped into the world of Paris in the 1920s, filled with parties, wealth, and intelligent corruption. While "Sad Café" centered around one main character, I anticipated what M&I would do with four taking each scene - well, needless to say, "Quartet" was nothing more than just "Sad Café" with Redgrave replaced by Maggie Smith. Sure, the stories are different, but Smith carried this film - throughout the hour and forty minutes, I watched just her, apathetic towards anyone else. The music was dull, the scenery was again beautiful but teetered on repetitious, and our story was non-existent. Cheating socialites ... art thieves ... wives attempting to keep control ... the elements were all in place, but M&I could not carry the raw emotion to this film. "Quartet", simply put, was downgraded to a miserable solo.

Merchant & Ivory did a great job in showing us Paris, 1920, both physically and emotionally. Having watched other films trying to capture the feel and vision of this era, they went above and beyond by handing us scenes in apartments, lounges, and those eccentric party scenes. The detail towards both the locations and the costumes were amazing, especially for Maggie Smith who seemed perfect in her imagined time and place. There was even this great scene that demonstrated the sexual consensus during this era. As this is a film about the honesty of love, it fit well into the dual-emotions being felt by both Smith and Adjani (the woman who moves into Smith and Bates' relationship). Ivory, directing this film, has done a phenomenal job of building the imagery, such as the places, events, and material feel for "Quartet", and he even does a great job in giving us the symbolism of the characters. Smith, playing the dedicated wife to her husband, HJ (played by Alan Bates), is eerily similar to the youthful Adjani - seemingly unable to say no to the forceful advances of Bates. Ivory gives us this rare glimpse to see what a youthful Smith may have been experiencing when she first met Bates, and why she allows this destructive ménage a trios. Coupled with the other sexual parodies throughout, Ivory has captured his desired emotions, but where "Quartet" fails is that he doesn't know what to do with them.

So, our scenes are set up beautifully. The underlining meaning behind our characters is also in place (giving graduate students something to talk about), but exactly does this film fail. "Quartet" never reaches the level of "Sad Café" because outside of Maggie Smith, none of our characters are worth their price. A maniacal combination of over-the-top acting and horrid editing, one would nearly need to watch "Quartet" four times before fully seeing the central characters come to life. This was a difficult film to follow, because our leads were impossible to stand behind, and our story seemed rushed and never quite developed. Sure, we had great visuals to accompany them, but it wasn't enough. I never thought I knew the pressures of Adjani throughout the entire film - the anger of Bates seemed to come from left field (not enough development), and Adjani's husband could have been a cardboard cut-out and still be able to get the job done. Due to the sub-par acting, Maggie Smith was able to chomp down hard and demonstrate a full range of abilities. "Quartet" is worth watching merely for Smith, but the rest will leave you bored. It fails because Ivory has created a film with the minority in mind.

This is not a film for everyone, and having seen several slow-moving British films, it wasn't even right for me. Ivory seems to be lacking a universal message, something that one could escape from the film with. Something that, in a group of friends, one could say "But I did like this part because..." For "Quartet" it wasn't there. Perhaps it was the translation from Jean Rhys' novel. Not everything can be translated from the printed page, and where you could read a scene as less subtle, Ivory went hysterical. There were just these moments, especially near the end, where instead of coming to a conclusion, Ivory instituted anger, rage, and screaming. It just didn't work. It didn't fit these under-developed characters. My major issue with this film is that events took place that didn't fit our actors. We were subjugated to watch them do things in this film that I do not believe they would actually do - our character's actions seemed to negate their voice.

Overall, "Quartet" stimulated my visual senses, demonstrated the power of Maggie Smith, and slipped some symbolic messages deep within the sub-text of the film, but on every other level it failed. Again, Smith proved that even playing a secondary character, she could take the role, give us those emotion-filled eyes, and steal away every scene possible. Even when she wasn't on screen, we couldn't help but wonder what she was doing. Ivory, as director, cannot seem to control the story. His failure comes with the horrid translation of Rhys' work. They chose to replace emotion with rage, which transformed the story's irony of love into confusing connections. Paris, 1920s, was beautiful. He hit his stride very well with our location, but the rest of the film flopped like a suffocating fish. "Quartet" is a very dry film - due mainly in part to our disastrous actors unable to life and the doldrums the repeating score. It had quite a bit of potential, but never quite fulfilled any promises. Merchant & Ivory created a film that some will love, but missed their opportunity to appeal to greater masses. Not that this film had to be a blockbuster, by strengthening the characters as well as the story, Ivory could have had another solid cinematic experience. Instead, it fumbled - causing the viewers to be the ones that suffered the most.

Grade: ** ½ out of *****