Directed by: Francois Girard
Written by: Francois Girard and Don McKellar
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Don McKellar, Carlo Cecchi, Sylvia Chang, Greta
Scacchi, and Jason Flemyng
Francois Girard's hauntingly beautiful film will exhaust you in the
same fashion as it did me. It wastes no time in spanning the globe - covering
multiple continents over a time period of roughly 300 years, a track record
that would make Indiana Jones proud. The various characters' lives touched
in profoundly different and powerful ways, leading the watcher through
a multitude of emotions. This film is also as pleasing to the eyes as
it is to the ears, as Alain Dostie's handy camera work is matched by John
Corigliano's music score.
Girard and cowriter Don McKellar, who also stars in the film, not only
spent quite a while on this project (and it shows!), but they have given
in a perfect title. The red violin on display throughout is the focal
point of this film and asymbol of utter perfection to the set of characters
who possess it.
The Red Violin tells the story of how one musical instrument
passes many hands through the centuries and touches an equal number of
hearts. The director is not only able to produce this effect on screen,
but he does it flawlessly by starting his story in present day Montreal,
where the violin is up for sale to a passionate throng, who are aware
of the unique beauty and history this beautiful object possesses. Among
them is Charles Morritz (solid work as usual by Samuel L. Jackson), an
appraiser, who's simply in love with the instrument.
Days before the actual bidding for the piece, Morritz spends endless
nights researching and analyzing the piece for its authenticity. As he
continues digging for the violin's origins, Girard guides the audience
through its history by presenting a handful of short stories of the violin's
previous owners. The team of Girard and McKellar do a fine job here as
the vignettes come together nicely as a whole, each weighing equally in
The film reveals that the instrument is first constructed in Italy,
in 1861 by master craftsman Nicolo Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi) for his unborn
son, who he dreams will someday become a violinist. His dreams are shattered
when his wife Anna (Irene Grazioli) dies in childbirth. The film then
fast-forwards a century later where the violin has made its way to an
order of monks, who run an orphanage near the outskirts of Vienna. It
soon becomes the property of one of the little boys: a shy and gifted
young musician named Kaspar Weiss (Christoph Koncz). The boy becomes attached
to it, but doesn't realize the true scope of its power. His mentor Georges
Poussin (Jean-Luc Bideau) does, however, and takes the young prodigy under
his wing. Poussin's intentions are all selfish at the start, but he quickly
finds himself falling in love with the little boy as a caring father figure.
With time, the violin finds its way to a family of gypsies. It is here
where world famous concert violinist Frederick Pope (an amusing performance
by Jason Flemyng) comes into possession of the piece, which brings his
performances both at jam-packed concert halls, and in the bedroom with
his lover Victoria (period piece veteran Greta Scacchi) up a level. The
violin then winds up in a Shanghai pawnshop during the Cultural Revolution
in China. This is where a young woman named Xiang Pei (Sylvia Chang) does
anything she can to save it from destruction from those who view it as
a symbol of evil. The film ends where it begins: in the auction house
as bidders raise the stakes on the one thing that they must have and experience
The Red Violin works on many levels, and uses two different techniques
effectively, keeping the viewer involved. By following this approach,
he manages to effectively hold the viewer in suspense, while slowly building
up the tension throughout the course of the film.
The first technique involves the use of tarot cards. They are introduced
thanks to Bussotti's late wife Anna, who visits a fortune-teller to seek
out her future. What she doesn't know, however, is that the violin's (and
not her) future would be spelled out with the luck of the deck. The other
technique that the director employs, which could be seen as an annoyance
if not handled properly, is the recreation of scenes. For example, the
scenes at the auction house, which act as a gateway to the violin's past,
are re-shot at different angles. After each vignette, the audience is
transported back to the present day, where the bids on the violin continue.
At first you may be leery of this Jackie Brown type of story telling,
but you'll quickly appreciate its importance.
Although the various stories and performances are equally well constructed
and executed, it is hard not to point out the fine work of Tarantino-regular
Jackson, who shows his versatile range with a subdued performance in a
film that you just can't picture him in. The way in which he caresses
and looks at the instrument (as if he were the original owner himself)
is priceless and speaks volumes.
This is an excetionally effective period piece production, with handsome
photography and lavish costumes. Since the stories are featured in their
native tongues (there's very little English spoken in the film), the viewer
gets a good "international" taste and feel of how this violin does indeed
touch lives. You also don't have to be a music connoisseur to fall in
love with the film's soundtrack. You are rewarded twice: first, by the
director, whose film feels like a flawless musical composition, but then
(as a bonus) we also get to enjoy John Corigliano's musical score (with
the help of the London Philharmonic Orchestra).
The Red Violin is the kind of film Four Rooms dreamed
of becoming. It works simply because all its elements successfully come
together as a whole producing a passionate and memorable piece of work.
By the end of the film, you'll find yourself also drawn to this haunting
portion of wood that's been shot at, broken, and pieced back together.
We appreciate its existence, how it develops a life of its very own, and
how someone like Charles Morritz, who never owned it and will never have
the money to purchase it outright, will do anything he can to have it
become a part of his life forever.