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Imagine that you look like a grandfather in real life. Imagine that
your right palm has been amputated but you play a violin with a bow
strapped to the maimed arm. Imagine a director wanting to use you as a
lead actor in a feature film. Imagine you win a Cannes Film Festival
Best Actor prize for the "Un Certain Regard" section of the festival
for the role. It's not a dream--it happened to Mexican actor Don Angel
Tavira in the Mexican film "El Violin" or the Violin, directed by
I caught up with this film at the on-going International Film Festival of Kerala, India, where it won the Silver Crow Pheasant, an award for the best competition entry chosen by the delegates (in contrast to the jury). The award was bestowed on the basis of votes from 6200 delegates attending the festival.
I do not know how Tavira lost his palm but I learned that the director made the film keeping the future actor in mind. Tavira looks like Charles Vanel in his later years. He exudes a sincerity that touches the viewer and is not easily forgettable. He mixes sincerity with the wizened touch of an old fox.
The film is similar to Irish filmmaker Ken Loach's "The wind that shakes the barley" in many ways. Only "The violin" is shot in black and white while Ken Loach shot his film in lush color. The photography is in no way amateurish. Both films are about the poor fighting mighty oppressors--in the case of "El Violin" poor villagers fighting a cruel Mexican army.
Finer points of the film include a marvelous dialog between grandfather and grandson that speaks highly of the director screenplay writer's Vargas' writing capability. Yet he has only made four films.
As one might have guessed the violin case and violin player are key to the development of the film. Music is a great leveler--the brutes and the aesthetes both appreciate good music.
Vargas choice to film in black and white is commendable. The violence and rape that launches the film is not extended into the film as other directors would have been tempted to do. Interestingly the strength of the film is that it does not show violence at later stages--something that Ken Loach could not restrain himself from. Violence for Vargas is not gratuitous--it is to provide the focal point. The rest of the violence is only for the viewer to imagine. Now that's good cinema.
This time Vargas had a great actor. Can he make equally good films without such innate talent of Don Tavira? My guess is that he can repeat this feat with others too. Vargas has an eye for talent, for good photography and a flair for good scriptwriting.
An old grandfather, Don Plutarco plays the violin and his son plays the
guitar, while the child grandson collects some pennies in a rural poor
But this small peasant Indian family has double activity and face a life or death situation. And don Plutarco has a risky idea to help his son, with the only things he has, his violin, courage, and ultimately, dignity.
However the film opens with some violent scenes, the rest of the movie saves this by showing the struggle of don Plutarco to aide his family, while the Mexican army occupies the nearby hills in a mean way. It shows the conditions in which this family and its community live. And a glimpse of how perhaps the mainstream Mexican society makes business with its Indians in time of need.
To people used to graphic and loud drama, this film perhaps will not be easy to appreciate while watching it. Shot in black and white, the only music in the film is the violin of don Plutarco.
But it is the story and the superb character of don Plutarco (Angel Tavira)that make the cornerstone of the movie. This character cannot be played in a more authentic way than this. Anyone who visits any Mexican town will find a don Plutarco and his grandson in the corner or every plaza, with Tavira's humble eyes, mixed with strength and sincerity.
The film tries to show what is ignored (puposedly or not) mostly by the majority of urban Mexicans. And the decisions made and feelings that the old violinist transmits, go beyond and make this film a universal and moving story.
The film starts with a horrifying scene where uniformed soldiers
tortures a group of villagers. In the following minutes however, we do
not come across with the same violent scenes. It is a very good way of
creating a gripping storyline and that is the most important asset of
the director and film's itself. After seeing the beginning, we think
that something is bound to happen to one of the main characters.
The Violin is a black and white movie and it gives the audience an impression of a documentary film from time to time. The main three characters the old man Plucarto, his son and grandson all excellent. But of course, the old man should have the biggest slice of the compliments.
We congratulate the director for creating an amazing movie with such brilliant cast. **** out of *****
My hat's off to this little,but powerful film from Mexico. 'El Violin' (or as it's being called in it's U.S. release,'The Violin')is a powerful political potboiler about an unnamed Latin American village, being bullied by government troops (sound only too familiar?),against an elderly musician,minus one hand, who still manages to play violin by tying the bow to the stump of his missing hand. This film is being compared to Ken Loach's 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley', but reminds me more of certain unpleasant events that took place in Central America back in the 1980's (does El Salvador strike a familiar chord?). The film is shot in black & white, giving it a look that may remind you of some of the classic Italian dramas (post realist) of post WWII (hint: DeSica's 'Bitter Grapes'). Although the film was completed in 2005, it is just now getting something resembling distribution. A film that is well worth seeking out.
Although it flirts with agitprop and its stereotypes, The Violin is ultimately a small, moving, human drama centered on the perseverance, against a ruthless military government, of a poor, frail, self-effacing grandfather and his family. The late Ángel Tavira is excellent as the grandfather -- the human face of an underground resistance -- whose weapon of choice is a violin. The long shots, in black-and-white, of Tavira on his borrowed mule reminded me of the scene in The Grapes of Wrath where Tom Joad leads his family of Dust Bowl émigrés across the ridge of a California hill or the panoramic shots of Sicilian hillsides in Godfather II. It's man in nature, man against a heavily armed nature, and tragically nature wins. Good independent film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The lives of peasants living in a remote Mexico village are examined in
this marvelous film by director Francisco Vargas. The situation
parallels, in a way, the conflict in that country that has been in the
news for a few years.
As the film opens one can see a prisoner being tortured by a soldier. The scene changes to a bucolic setting in which an old man, his son, and grandson are seen boarding a makeshift truck transporting them to a nearby town. The older man, Plutarco, is a violinist and his son, Genaro, plays the guitar. They play for patrons at a restaurant for tips which the grandson, Lucio collects. With their meager earnings they get to eat. One thing is established, Genaro is part of the rebels that are fighting in the mountains nearby.
The story changes quite drastically as the men go back to their village. There are soldiers everywhere setting their town on fire. Genaro, who is involved with the rebels flees to a safer place, leaving the older man and his son to fend for themselves. Plutarco wants to help his son but because he must travel through the soldier's camp in order to go to his small piece of land, he becomes the object of curiosity as the fiddler who becomes a figure of amusement for the commander of the troop. Plutarco's violin will become key to the story, as is his relationship with the top army man will be put to a test. Plutarco and Genaro will be together at the end. These men, like most of their friends and neighbors seem doomed because the unfair way life dealt with them.
"El violin" is an unique film in which poverty and necessity have made the peasants take things into their own hands trying to get rid of the oppressing and ruthless soldiers that keep them down. It seems that the poor men one sees are part of people that are kept in poverty throughout different generations. The peasants get our admiration for being noble and having to put up with conditions no human being should have to face.
The acting is excellent in general. Best of all, Angel Tavira, who is seen as the proud and stoic Plutarco. One can see in this man's eyes a distinct hatred for the men that keep him down, yet, he makes a fatal mistake that will prove fatal. Gerardo Taracena has some good moments as Genaro and Gilberto Palacios appears as the commander.
One of the best achievements in the film is the crisp black and white cinematography of Martin Boege and Oscar Hijuelos. This is a major triumph for Francisco Vargas who has created a satisfying story about the oppressed people from Mexico.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
That little black and white film is in a way fascinating because it is
not for us, its western audience, attached to Mexico only but to any
south American country where the presence of Indians is important and
where these Indians are systematically victimized and pressurized by
the conservative if not reactionary governments and their armed forces.
This film may explain why so many of these countries have lately voted
for popular candidates against their establishments. Yet the film is in
a way very passé, and even irritating. We have seen and heard too much
about these brutalities. They exist but what is the film trying to do ?
To make us feel guilty and cry, and then open our purses and give ?
Probably. But time has passed and too many of these gifts of ours have
ended who knows where, but not on the table of the poor. Time has also
ripened and finally, at least through ballots and ballot-boxes, these
people have decided to recapture their destinies and to repossess their
riches that had been confiscated, maybe with a commercial contract
signed by a powerless insect in front of the all-powerful business
vultures coming from the West. Finally these people seem to have
decided to do what they have to do to be free and then to make the
profit of their work stay in their country and help their people, their
children. Salvador Allende has finally resurrected from his
quasi-execution by Pinochet. El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido. The
film though shows how tricky things may be. The grandfather thinks he
is getting the mickey out of the officer with his violin and his
cornfield. In fact the officer is playing cat and mouse with him, as
revealed when the violin disappears from the grandfather's ammunitions
hole in the cornfield and reappears in the hands of that officer. Then
the grandfather understands he has to face this situation, confront it
and hence to die, since anyway all the leaders of the revolutionary
armed group is was part of are prisoners and will soon be dead. This
reveals that the guard who gave the grandfather a weapon twice
pretending it was a taco for the road must have had an equivalent spy
on the other side since the military forces knew every intention of the
revolutionary forces. The real sad note is the end, with the grandson
playing his father's guitar but this time not to cover up some
plotting, but only to survive and feed himself. In other words military
action is never the right solution because it creates human suffering
and it changes nothing : it seems that military action always leads to
the victory of the most conservative and reactionary.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University of Paris Dauphine & University of Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne
This low-key film brings to life the struggle between the army and
rebellious peasants in 1970's Mexico through the words and actions of
an unlikely hero, the elderly, diminutive Don Plutarco Hidalgo (played
by Angel Tavira, a real-life violinist).
Plutarco, owner of the eponymous violin, is seen early on in the film playing his instrument to earn a living and to give expression to the feelings of himself and his companions. In the city he scratches a living from busking with the assistance of his son and grandson, but later his instrument offers consolation and catharsis to his fellow-villagers when they are uprooted from their homes by brutal Mexican soldiers in search of rebels harboured in the rural community.
When Plutarco has his violin confiscated by the local military commander and is forced to play for the latter's edification this eloquently communicates the way in which simple rural folk had their voices suppressed and their livelihoods taken away by army cruelty. Whilst Plutarco cunningly works to aid the rebels against the military there are shocking scenes of military brutality, which presage a bleak ending for the protagonists; by the end of this film I was among several members of the audience biting their nails with concern.
This is quite a short film (a little over an hour and a half) but its characters are powerfully portrayed and enlivened by well-written and sometimes witty dialogue. A special mention must be made for the black-and-white cinematography: the film looks superb.
I enjoyed this film even though it was disturbing and violent at times. Although it doesn't state in what country this tale is taking place, the characters speak with a Mexican accent. The two main characters, Don Plutarco and the Capitan, were very authentic. I grew up on small ranches and am of Mexican descent and the character of Don Plutarco reminded me of many of the old men I met in the fields, wise but stubborn, acting helpless but always looking to take advantage. The Capitan reminded me of many career soldiers I met in the Army. Cunning and with that ability to see into your soul. Does he see the obvious? Will he take pity on his fellow countrymen? The interplay between the two is like a chess match but one in which the outcome is certain from the beginning. An excellent film.
La Violin has the uncanny feel of intimacy we are drawn as an audience into the nerve- wrecking and immensely dangerous business of opposing a ruthless and unforgiving army. It also achieves the expression of such a huge story in such a small setting we are really only exposed to four important characters. But through these people, a whole struggle of a country is exposed and in a more general sense, any oppressed people anywhere. This inspiring drama really tugs at your heartstrings especially Don Plutarco (Ángel Tavira) who simultaneously pulls off the innocent grandpa look and the sly plotter that he has to become to protect his family. A powerful fight-the-power drama that will have you lost in a surreal world of honor and rebellion I just have to give it a 10/10.
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