The Red Violin

Starring: Carlo Cecchi, Jean-Luc Bideau, Samuel L. Jackson Directed by: François Girard

A few weeks ago I reviewed I’m Not There, which moved from storyline to storyline with the greatest of ease.  This week I watched another movie that juggles several storylines – The Red Violin.

The story begins at an auction, where Samuel L. Jackson strides in, gives the doorman his coat and says, “Don’t let me forget this.”  Sure, Samuel L. is playing Charles Morritz, but the viewer doesn’t know that yet.  The jewel of the auction is the last violin crafted by Niccolo Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi), a uniquely beautiful piece in an unusual shade of red.

The back story on the violin is simple – Bussotti made the violin for his soon-to-be-born child.  It is a perfectly crafted instrument.  His wife Anna (Irene Grazoli) also anticipates the child, but with some misgivings, fearing she is too old to have a child.  She asks the family servant to tell her future as reassurance – though ultimately she is not strongly reassured.   When neither Anna nor the child survive the birth, the violin moves on to an orphanage in Vienna.

Each change of hands of the violin is bookended by the reveal of one tarot card from Anna’s reading as well as a re-visit to the auction, with another member of the audience linked to the violin’s past.  My main issue with the film is the transition devices used in the movie tend to disrupt the flow of the story rather than helping bridge the episodes – especially the auction scenes.

I can’t say that I really liked or disliked the movie; I found it very polarizing.  Some scenes were exceptionally good – the violin’s adventure with the gypsies, though short, was artistically shot and the music associated with that sequence is probably my favorite piece from the score.  The foreign language film aspect is also interesting – each of the violin’s “homes” is in a different county, thus Italian is spoken at its genesis, German and French in Vienna, English at Oxford and Chinese in Shanghai.

But overall I just didn’t like the auction aspect – the idea behind it was great, but the execution felt forced.  Other than the violin’s time with hedonistic virtuoso Frederick Pope (Jason Flemyng), the episodes depicted a rather sheltered and sometimes ‘lost’ life.  However, the other interwoven device – the reading of the tarot cards – is excellent.  The mystery of the violin’s strange color is also interesting, but perhaps a little forced as well.

If you like:

  • A tale tinged with melancholy
  • Journeys through history – including some historic periods and situations you don’t normally see (such as Maoist China through the eyes of a conflicted party member)
  • Beautiful violin music

Put it in the queue!

If you don’t like:

  • A film device for the sake of using a device when the actual tale would suffice
  • A tale tinged with melancholy
  • Samuel L. Jackson acting the badass in a situation where no badass is needed (does a specialist on identifying and restoring string instruments really need to be a badass?  Really?)

Don’t put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson