Yaron Zilberman doesn’t hesitate when asked why eight years elapsed between the release of his first film, the 2004 award-winning documentary, Watermarks, about the Hakoah Vienna Jewish women’s swim team of the 1930s, and his second film, A Late Quartet, which opens Nov. 9 at the Ritz Five in Philadelphia.
“Because that’s how long it takes to make a movie,” responds the 46-year-old resident of New York City — by way of Haifa and Tel Aviv. And considering the cast and crew he assembled for his first feature film, that is an acceptable explanation.
The film, which details the turmoil surrounding a chamber music quartet as its members deal with the career-ending illness of their leader, features Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Evanir. As Zilberman puts it, “Getting these great actors takes a long time.”
So how did this former Wall Street specialist with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from MIT wind up directing some of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors? “I worked in derivatives in the mid ’90s,” he explains. “I saw how it was all built on things that were so fragile — mathematically, it didn’t stand on happy ground.”
Zilberman had felt for a long time that he wanted to make art, but it wasn’t until a friend introduced him to documentary filmmaking that he knew he had found his calling.
It was in pursuit of his art that he decided to make his second film a feature instead of a documentary. “I wanted to tell a story about a family dynamic, and telling the story within the context of a string quartet is a fresh way to look at it,” he says.
By making the protagonists a group that has played together for 25 years, Zilberman is able to create a sense of physical and emotional closeness as the players become a surrogate family for each other. Walken’s Peter Mitchell plays the patriarch, Keener’s Juliette Gelbart the daughter who was raised by Peter and his late wife, and Hoffman’s Robert Gelbart (Juliette’s husband) and Ivanir’s Gideon Rosen are the warring sons competing for primacy. There are enough other interpersonal conflicts that, at times, the film can feel, in a good way, a bit like one of Woody Allen’s New York dramas.
To make such a self-assured film, with A-list actors inhabiting the rarefied world of chamber music, one would assume that Zilberman has been immersed in classical music his entire life. But one would be wrong.
“Somebody gave me a cassette when I was around 16 years old,” he recalls. “I played it in my car — it was jazz music. The tape flipped to the other side, and it was a piano trio. The music was hitting me very strongly, so I started listening to more and more chamber music, because it moved me the strongest. It hits me on the note level.”
For information on screening time: 215-925-7900; www. landmarktheatres.com.