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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



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Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

Canadian director Francois Girard, best known for his inventive Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, again uses music as an inspiration in his new film, which is ostensibly five short films about a fabled violin. This beautiful, visually lush, and breath-takingly romantic epic tells the story of a fabulous violin, the last creation of master builder Nicolo Bussoti, and follows the instrument across three continents.

The film opens in 17th century Italy, where Bussoti (Carlo Cecchi) creates the violin as a lasting legacy for his beautiful young wife, who died during childbirth. Supposedly possessed by his wife's soul, the magnificent violin plays haunting music that inspires all who come in contact with it, and it becomes an object of obsession for all who cross its path. Over the centuries the violin passes across Europe to England, and then on to China, where it narrowly escapes destruction at the height of the Cultural Revolution. The 300 year old instrument then finds its way to a famed Montreal-based auction house, where it is put up for sale.

The thread that links all the various stories is the auction itself. This key sequence is replayed several times, from the different perspectives of the various interested parties who have come to bid for the violin, which brings an element of suspense to proceedings.

Girard has written the film in collaboration with Canadian writer/director/actor Don McKellar (Exotica, etc), who plays a small role here as an antiquities expert called in to help verify the violin's authenticity. However, not all the strands of this multi-layered narrative dealing with lust, greed and the enduring power of love and music, are successful. Subsequently, the film is a little uneven. The modern day scenes in particular lack a sense of passion and beauty.

Girard has assembled an impressive international cast to breathe life into the story and the characters, but many of them play small roles. Samuel L Jackson lends dignity to his ambivalent role as an expert called in to trace the provenance of a shipment of rare violins due to be auctioned. He becomes obsessed with the famed red violin of history when he discovers it amongst the collection. Jason Flemyng (from Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, etc) and Greta Scacchi steam up the screen as a flamboyant nineteenth century English musician and his demanding and jealous mistress. Christoph Koncz is memorable as Kaspar Weiss, a young child prodigy.

The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Alain Dostie, and the stunning visuals are further enhanced by John Corigliano's compositions. Francois Seguin's production design is also impressive and brings alive the 17th century European settings.

Copyright 1998 Greg King

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