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The Red Violin

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Red Violin

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi
Director: Fracois Girard
Rated: NR
RunTime: 128 Minutes
Release Date: June 1999
Genres: Drama, Foreign, Music


*Also starring: Carlo Cecchi, Jean-Luc Bideau, Sylvia Chang, Colm Feore, Jason Flemyng, Irene Grazioli, Christoph Koncz



Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

Francois Girard's _The_Red_Violin_ is at once a film of great ambition and simplicity. In the latter sense, the film is ultimately about its title: a violin that is red in color. The ambition comes in following the title object as it is passed down from person to person, place to place over the course of three centuries. The film's artistic success comes in how it makes its individual pieces interlock smoothly as a whole.

Although not an anthology film per se, _The_Red_Violin_ suffers the same pitfall that those films often encounter: inconsistency. With its main character an inanimate object, one's interest and involvement depends on the flesh-and-blood characters and plotline that surround the violin in any given vignette; as such, some episodes are bound to be more effective than others. A major reason for some pieces' greater success than others is that they simply work well within a limited space of time. For example, one affecting story about a orphaned six-year-old violin prodigy (Christoph Koncz) who is taken under the wing of a French music teacher (Jean-Luc Bideau) teacher in Austria is simple yet nuanced enough to work within a 20-minute or so time frame. On the another hand, the tale that immediately follows it, about the strange erotic power the violin holds on a popular concert violinist (Jason Flemyng) in England, feels truncated and superficial, its enticing psychosexual themes barely touched on.

Others who come into contact with the violin are a group of gypsies (their brief, wordless musical interlude bridging the Austria and England stories together) and a Chinese woman (Sylvia Chang) caught up in her country's Cultural Revolution, when all instruments of Western Culture--such as a violin--were destroyed. While each section of the film has its merits and importance, the most pivotal points in _The_Red_Violin_'s journey is its beginning--its creation in 17th century Italy--and its end: in contemporary Montreal, where the instrument is set to go on the auction block after a thorough investigation by an expert (Samuel L. Jackson).

Girard and writing collaborator Don McKellar (who also appears in a supporting role in the Montreal segment) have come up with two strong points of unification for the individual stories, one stemmed in Italy, with one taking strong root in Montreal. In Italy, the violin maker's (Carlo Cecchi) pregnant wife (Irene Grazioli) gets a tarot card reading, which eerily foretells the points of the violin's journey. Key to the investigation in Montreal is the mystery behind the instrument's unique coloring; though the answer doesn't come as much a surprise, the mystery is an effective unifying overlay.

Of course, the strongest unifying device is the beautiful score, composed by John Corigliano. Filled with haunting, often melancholy melodies that seem to longingly weep, it is a carefully constructed work of passion--a description that can be applied to the entirety of Girard's lovely _The_Red_Violin_.

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