Many find the films of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant to be a little too reserved and placid, a charge that can quite easily be leveled at Quartet. Dry to the point of being parched, Quartet clearly intends to point up the deeper emotions that lie buried beneath the surface; yet director Ivory seems somewhat confused about what those emotions are and about what relation they have to the story. Motivations are murky; in an effectively subtle film, this can work to create a discomforting atmosphere, but in Quartet they seem murky to those behind the camera as well. This is especially true of Isabelle Adjani, a fine actress who seems left at sea here. Alan Bates turns in a much better performance, but one feels that the actor is imposing meaning into his scenes that isn't really there. Only Maggie Smith truly seems to have a clear handle on what her character is really feeling and why. Despite these flaws, the film does manage to create a palpable sense of vague melancholy that is impressive, and it is visually quite striking, from the gorgeously detailed sets and costumes to the lovely, gently evocative photography. If Quartet fails to always strike the chords it wants to, it is still haunting.