In present day Montreal, a famous Nicolo Bussotti violin, known as "the red violin," is being auctioned off. During the auction, we flash back to the creation of the violin in 17th century Italy, and follow the violin as it makes its way through an 18th century Austrian monastery, a violinist in 19th century Oxford, China during the Cultural Revolution, and back to Montreal, where a collector tries to establish the identity and the secrets of "the red violin." Written by
Sean Gallagher <email@example.com>
A wonderful ride, a bit thin by the end, but great mise-en-scene meanwhile
The Red Violin (1998)
A total romantic fiction, rather compelling in its construction over many centuries, and beautifully wrought in each era.
I don't suppose the violin needs romanticizing, nor does it need a kind of obvious group hug view of its history, but that's the feel good, up and down, loving story it takes. First there is the small violin shop where it is made, and the tragedy around this particular model, the maker's last. It's supposed to come from the same era as the Strad and other timeless fiddles. It's a great place to begin a story filled with mysteries (and the mystery of a great violin, it's shape, wood, and varnish, is given high tech reinforcement in the end with an electronic awe). So the violin is born.
And it moves from a Austrian orphanage (with an unbelievable prodigy) to generations of gypsies (some interesting filming with the violin suspended in space as one after another player takes it up) to a crackpot British prodigy (who acts more like a rock star and an indulgent one, if that's not redundant). Finally it winds its way (not so improbably, because life is weird) to China, which of course echoes the modern rise of the Asian virtuosi coming from that part of the world.
So the tale is the history of a violin, a possessed one. The spirit of the instrument seems to inhabit the movie. This is reinforced by an Italian fortune-teller (a kindly witch) who has an early Tarot deck. The Tarot was not used for divination that early--it was introduced a card game in Northern Italy in the late 1400s--but that's okay, because it works into the plot really well. Five cards are chosen by the pregnant wife of the master violin maker. Each is turned over for another twenty minute chapter in the movie. In a key moment, the wife asks the fortune teller, what if I don't like what it says, what if it's evil? And the fortune teller says, "I'll pretend not to notice."
Promptly the moon is the first card, the most ominous card in the deck (I've studied tarot a bit, which is why, weirdly enough, I watched the movie). But the fortune teller doesn't say that doom is facing the pregnant wife. Instead she lies, and the movie takes one turn after another.
You might think this is brilliant stuff, and it has the trappings of that. It could have been, with some slight twist of intentions, artfully transcendent. But it's a hair long at times, and by the last (modern) scenes, a bit cold and unfulfilling. I don't know the solution to what might have worked, but I know it left me interested and curious by the end, not quite bowled over, which is clearly (on the sleeve) the intention.
Still, an engaging, musically rich tapestry of great scenes, great music, and a brimming story. Recommended, with slight reservations.
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