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The Red Violin

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Flemyng, Greta Scacchi, Sylvia Chang, Jean Luc Bideau, Christoph Koncz, Carlo Cecchi and Irene Grazioli
Screenplay by Don McKellar with François Girard
Directed by François Girard
website: www.redviolin.com

IN SHORT: Extraordinary arthouse flick. [Rated R, 126 minutes]

Cranky is going to have to work hard not to sound like the film student locked away inside (though FS is beaming, having survived a 50 degree cold screening room on a 100 degrees in the shade muggy New York day) . . .

For the type of film that circulates in the arthouse market, The Red Violin is probably at the uppermost upper level of the films you would see there. It delivers all the elements of a high class flick: an expansive story covering 400 years of time and locations on three continents. There's lust and death and shooting; revolution and graverobbing and while that fine list may pique the interest of teens, this is a movie for grownups. My gut feeling, nostalgia for lost youth actually, tells me the kidlets would be bored to death (That's why God invented CGI). For the rest of us grownups, we get to experience a combination of the best features of foreign and domestic storytelling, with only a little symbolism and karmic destiny.

Beginning sometime in the late 1600s, "The Red Violin" is a creation of Nicolo Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi) the Master Violin Maker of Cremona, Italy to celebrate the forthcoming birth of his son - the man thinks big. His lovely wife, Anna (Irene Grazioli) fearful that she is too old to be bearing children, has her future read in the tarot cards of a servant (Anita Laurenzi). The servant warns her mistress that she cannot predict the future at such a critical time of the pregnancy ("the humors are intertwined and not distinct") and the reading she does make is used as a framing sequence by the filmmakers. Five cards. Five locations and stories, beginning with the events to come in Cremona . . .

Honestly, folks, the hard part about reviewing The Red Violin is telling you enough of the stories involved to pique your interest, without giving any of the surprises away. Some of those surprises are very subtle indeed, and while they'll give you a place to start post-film discussions over tiny cups of espresso (or whatever student film heads are slurping down at Starbucks) there is nothing so difficult in this film that you can't walk out feeling satisfied with you choice for expenditure of cold hard cash. So I'll be brief . . .

A century later, in 1792, the Red Violin is in the hands of Austrian monks. There is passes from child to child until a prodigy, the six-year-old Kasper Weiss (Christoph Koncz) is discovered. French music master Georges Poussin (Jean-Luc Bideau) who sees in the child his ticket to wealth and fame amidst Court royalty. Kasper develops a passion for the instrument; refusing to be apart from it and taking it to bed. Finally, the boy is granted an audition at the Court. . .

A century later, England, in 1893, the Red Violin is traded by Gypsies to Lord Frederick Pope (Jason Flemyng), who allows them to stay on his vast estate. The sound of the violin inspires the musician, even moreso than his affair with novelist Victoria Byrd (Greta Scacchi). Passion for music and passion for flesh become one as Pope achieves fame for his breathtaking public performances. When Anna, a writer, must journey to Russia to complete work on a novel, Pope develops a passion for the instrument; refusing to be apart from it and taking it to bed . . . with a new mistress.

In the 1930s the violin is pawned by a former servant of Pope, who has returned to his native China. In the Cultural Revolution of 1965 it is hidden, and saved from destruction, by Xiang Pei (Sylvia Chang) who will be condemned as a traitor to the Party. Thirty years on, the Chinese government discovers an entire cache of hidden instruments and consigns them to Duval's auction house, in Montreal. New York based violin expert Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson), recognizes the instrument, and therein lies the completion of the tarot reading, for as descendants or relations of some kind to each of the stories bid furiously for possession of the instrument, the violin itself secretly completes the journey it was meant to take, and thus ends the tale.

Simply, what goes around comes around. Kudos to director François Girard, for allowing each tale to be told in its native language - Italian, German, French, Chinese, English - and ditto to he and writer Don McKellar (who appears as a techie at the auction house) for presenting a clean and clear story that stands on its own and presents enough karmic stuff to keep the post movie discussion going.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Red Violin, he would have paid...

$6.00

Very much enjoyed it. The extensive time frame prohibits The Red Violin from having the strong romantic themes of, say, The English Patient, but the sweep and lustrous photography of Alain Dostie make this a treat for the eye, as well as the mind.

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The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is  Copyright © 1995-2008 by, Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, T their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy AwardT(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is  Copyright © 1995  -  2013 by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.