The Violin (2005) Poster


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Riveting debut performance by an elderly actor and impressive photography
Jugu Abraham11 December 2006
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 Francisco Vargas.

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.
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Viva La Cinema, Mexicana
Seamus28293 March 2008
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.
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Simple and Powerful
agalil_mx21 May 2007
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 town.

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.
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Hail and Farewell to Angel Tavira
GeneSiskel27 November 2008
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.
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A Very Good Film From Mexico
mustican21 April 2008
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 *****
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Fiddler on the mountain
jotix10027 June 2008
Warning: 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.
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To beg or to rebel
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU14 February 2007
Warning: 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
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An eloquent portrayal of a grim struggle
Robert_Woodward13 January 2008
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.
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A small but powerful movie
Ricardo Flores2 October 2011
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.
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Simply Stunning
Samuel-Maldonado26 May 2011
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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Authentic and Griping
michael germaine20 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
What a great story and film. The acting and casting were flawless. The camera work, a little iffy at times didn't really distract much. I can't help but wonder why great films like this are seen by relatively few people and seldomly make their money back. I really liked the thoughtfulness and attention to detail i.e. the mule intuitively showing up and then again wanting to avoid the approaching soldiers. The plot line thread of the checkpoint guard, who risked his life by supplying guns to the rebel peasants was thoughtful and provocative.

This film really captured the humbleness, heart-felt-ness, and basic goodness of simple salt-of-the-earth people ultimately betrayed only by their trust and naivety.

Michael Germaine
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Tense and grim.
Warning: Spoilers
In an unnamed Latin-American country, a loosely organized peasant rebellion struggles against an oppressive government army. The Mexican film "El Violin" doesn't really get more specific than that in terms of where or when the story takes place. When government forces invade a rebel village, they force the villagers to leave behind a secret ammo stash. While soldiers camp out in the captured village, Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) and his desperate rebels try to figure out a way to get to their munitions. Genaro's elderly father, a one-handed violinist and farmer, takes it upon himself to solve the problem.

If I thought the violin might be a fun, lighthearted story, I was completely wrong. The movie opens with a brutal scene of torture, and while the mood occasionally lightens a bit, it generally remains grim. The film never makes it clear what the rebels are fighting against; I guess "oppression" in general. It doesn't really matter. The theme is how the spirit of freedom and rebellion lives on, passed from generation to generation. There is also an exploration of how people might be different given different circumstances. The army captain is a brutal man of war, but he discovers a belated interest in music under the tutelage of the old violinist.

I watched "El Violin" largely as part of my Spanish-language study. On its merits as a film, I would say it is a bit too naturalistic for me. It is a well-told story, however, with excellent performances and some beautiful footage of the Mexican countryside. For a viewer who won't mind the pervasive grimness of the tale, it is worth checking out.
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Fiddlin' with the enemy
Chad Shiira19 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
In a scene that can only be described as a piece of virtuoistic movie-making: the past, present, and future of a vanquished people are conjured up by visual means with one unbroken pass of the camera. Late in the night, Don Plutarco(Angel Tavira) answers his grandson's question about returning home with a story that spans the breadth of time. It's a campfire tale not meant for roasting marshmallows; a homespun creation myth rendered by the elder which coincides with the sudden departure of the grandfather as the scene's focal point, when the camera tilts down, then passes slowly across an expanse of fire and grassland. Moving to the right, moving away from the human subjects, the distance between the disembodied voice and its physical source creates a spatial chasm that denotes fluid time, as the grandfather narrates about an epoch in the future which he might not live to see. The old man's expiration is represented by a tree, as the camera's ongoing verticality then turns towards the heavens, at the moon, which transforms Don Plutarco into a memory, a voice-over. From deep space, what transpires around the campfire(the smoke billowing off the ground has a prehistoric look) is the past, after all.

Near the end of "El Violin", Don Plutarco tells the captain(Dagoberto Gama), "The music is over," and closes his violin case, at gunpoint. As he makes eye-contact with the captured resistance fighters(his son included) being escorted by force into a holding cell, the violinist realizes that he had become a collaborator for the enemy against his own volition. Earlier in the film, the Hidalgo men(Plutarco and Cenaro, played by Gerardo Taracena) perform as a guitar and violin combo to disinterested locals who ignore the third Hidalgo, Don Plutarco's grandson, in his approachment for spare change. Although the violinist helps the resistance in an auxiliary capacity, he's a performer first, who succumbs to the lure of a captive audience, as in the scene when the old man puts on an outdoor recital for the laxing soldiers. Even worse, Plutarco is delighted by the captain's purported love for music, perhaps reminding him of his own son, as both blood relative and blood-shedder both use wartime as an excuse to pursue this exalted abstract language of melodious sound. For awhile, the violinist forgets his agenda, and smiles, in the midst of their affable exchange. The two men clearly enjoy each other's company. The captain never suspects that Don Plutarco has political ties to the local militia.

But lest the grandfather forget, the captain puts on his helmet before he takes leave, rupturing this temporality of common ground, propagated by the universal human need for art. With his military regalia completed by the finishing headgear, Don Plutarco's friend has the look of institutionalized murder, but he grants the old man permission to check on his crops; the cornstalk fortress that holds a secret stash of ammunition. To make room for the bullets, the old man removes his violin and lays it to rest in the pinebox crate. It's a fitting gesture, this burial, since the violin, once symbolizing the music of the tyrannized, now epitomizes the music of collusion. Don Plutarco realizes this, after the vanishing act in the cornfield(on his return trip to retrieve the violin), when the captain emerges from the compound with his stolen instrument in the autocrat's clutches. Through no fault of his own, the intelligence he acquired about the military's propsed ambush on the resistance fighters had arrived too late, but in spite of his innocence, Don Plutarco feels the weight of perceived traitorship bearing down on him, as his son and brothers-in-arms file past the disgraced musician. That's because his innocence has an egregious technicality; he had fiddled for the enemy, and liked it.
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