The Red Violin (1998) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A red-colored violin inspires passion, making its way through three centuries over several owners and countries, eventually ending up at an auction where it may find a new owner.

  • 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."

  • The rare Red Violin is up for auction in Montreal. Through a series of five different stories, dating from different periods of time, ranging from 1681 to the present, we see the history of the violin and how it touched the lives of many people.

  • Duval, a Montréal-based auction house, is in charge of the disposition through auction of a recently discovered private collection of stringed instruments, the jewel of the collection being the so-called red violin - so named for its color - made by Nicolò Bussotti in the late seventeenth century, and most famously once owned by British virtuoso Frederick Pope in the late nineteenth century. The restoration and verification of the instruments, including the authentication of the red violin, was overseen by New York based expert Charles Morritz. Through flashbacks, the history of the ownership of the red violin is presented, some of those stories, while perhaps not as renowned as that of Pope, nonetheless no less interesting. Included in that history is Bussotti's creation of the instrument, which he intended for his yet unborn offspring - who he knew would be a son - it being the perfect instrument in his estimation especially in comparison to all his other creations, and the reason behind the last minute decision to finish the instrument in the distinctive red varnish. Accompanying the stories of the red violin's ownership is that history being present in the bidding room in the importance for those potential bidders of those individual connections to the violin. Interwoven with these stories is the one consistent item beyond the violin itself tying those stories together, namely a tarot card reading for Bussotti's wife Anna late in her pregnancy by the Bussottis' elderly servant Cesca concerning what Anna was anticipating as a difficult birth.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • This film centres on a red violin created in 1681 by Cremonese master violinmaker, Nicolo Bussotti, for the forthcoming birth of his child. The film tells the subsequent fate of the violin in episodes, linked together by a fortune telling, read by the servant woman Cesca, for Nicolo´s pregnant wife, Anna. Instead of predicting the future of Anna, the tarot cards reveal the future of the violin. The violin was to become Nicolo´s final masterpiece, an impossible instrument with perfect resonance in all three characteristics. Following the death of his wife Anna in childbirth, Nicolo varnishes the violin with ingredients from which it derives it red colouring. The main return point in the movie is the auctioning of the Red Violin at the Duval auction house in Canada. The film then proceeds to follow the violin's history as it passes from person to person beginning at an Austrian monastery where it goes from child to child, culminating its sojourn at the monastery with a talented orphan of about 6 years age, Kaspar Weiss. Kaspar is taken under the wing of mentor Georges Poussin, but Kaspar comes to an untimely death auditioning to the Prince Mansfeld. The violin "slumbers" in the grave with Kaspar, but is dug up and moves on to have several gypsy owners. One band of gypsies brings the violin to the English country lands of Lord Frederick Pope, who is a violin virtuoso. Lord Pope overhears the violin being played by the gypsies. Pope readily procures what he immediately perceives to be an exceptional violin. He is aesthetically or carnally transfixed by this one violin in such a manner that his jealous lover first leaves him to travel to Europe, then returns unannounced. Whereupon she shoots the violin when she discovers Pope in bed in a ménage-a-trois with the violin & another woman. Subsequently Pope kills himself and the violin gets taken to China by Pope´s former servant who sells it at the bond shop of a Shanghai merchant. This merchant only sees the value of the gemstone mounted in the scroll of the violin, and he removes the stone. By 1937 the violin belongs to a bourgeois Chinese family.The violin then barely survives the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of a communist China which at that time found western music unacceptable. Ultimately, when the collector dies the Chinese government "inherits" the by now anonymous violin in a motley collection of stringed instruments, including at least one genuine Stradivarius. At the Canadian auction descendants of the previous owners of the violin are there competing for the red, together with one Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson) who is a violin expert who was to authenticate and value the Stradivarius for Canadian customs assessment. Serendipitously Morritz is one of the few people who suspects the truth about the anonymous red instrument included in the consignment from China. He tries to keep his suspicions secret, but as the film proceeds we see one after another determined buyers of the red violin arrive at the auction.

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