Jul 1, 2011

[Movies] The Red Violin (1998)

The Red Violin (1998)Here's another case of a movie being recommended to me by a friend, more specifically my boss actually. I had previously caught snippets on cable TV (back when I actually had cable), but never managed to catch the beginning. And this is definitely one of those movies that you need to see from start to finish since simply jumping into the flick somewhere in the middle can be pretty confusing.

And that's not a bad thing by any standard. It just speaks of how tightly-knit the narrative of this movie is. It's not necessarily a fast-paced story nor an action-packed one, but it is a good one.

Of course it turned out that my partner had already seen it before - he seems to have a penchant for movies of this nature. Or just movies in general, really. He watches movies like how I read books and such. But that's another topic entirely.

This movie had a great story in it. And that alone makes it worth more than most that we see in theaters these days.

The Red Violin is a 1998 drama movie. The movie was a joint project between Canada, Italy and the UK. And that was pretty appropriate given the movie does in fact span over three centuries of history across five countries.

The movie centers around what could be considered to be a perfect violin that has survived the ravages of time. This infamous Red Violin was created by Nicolò Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi) while his wife, Anna (Irene Grazioli) was with child. He expected their child to become a great violin player and thus he had set about to craft the most perfect violin possible. However both died due to complications during childbirth and this devastates Bussotti.

Shortly before her death, Anna had asked her servant Cesca (Anita Laurenzi) to read her child's fortune. Since she could not read the fortune of one who had not yet been born, she instead read the mother's fortune. Through the fortunes tied to each Tarot card, the movie reveals the fate of the violin as if it were her own. The movie takes us through the years to Vienna, Oxford, Shanghai and then finally to Montréal in the modern day. Each time period has its own story that ties to the Tarot card and links to one of the groups interested in bidding on the Red Violin in the auction.

Visconti-Sforza tarot deck The Devil card is a...Image via WikipediaThe movie plays out like a series of short films, each of them involving the Red Violin. Each time we get to meet a new "master" of the instrument who either draws inspiration or skill from the violin. And through the years, there seems to be a constantly repeating pattern of amazing success matched with tragedy as linked to the violin. The instrument gives as generously as it takes away from the wielder.

And the stories are amazingly diverse in their tone. First we have a young German orphan by the name of Kaspar Weiss (Christoph Koncz) who becomes the protege of Georges Poussin (Jean-Luc Bideau). Then we shift to the hedonistic yet wildly talented Frederick Pope (Jason Flemyng). And lastly we have the divided Chinese political officer Xiang Pei (Sylvia Chang), who must choose between her love for her mother and her craft against her current political affiliation. Thus by the time we get to the modern setting with Charles Morritz (Samuel Jackson), an appraiser who made the discovery that the violin that had come into their possession was indeed the fabled Red Violin. And despite the diversity of the various characters, their stories come together in a wonderfully rich tapestry.

In the beginning I have to admit I felt a bit confused by the events. We start in the auction house after all and the camera starts focusing on various players who have a stake in the auction and yet we have no idea why. Then it backtracks to the far-flung past as the filmmakers seem to ask us to forget about everyone in the present for now and follow this story instead. However once you get past the initial confusion given the time-shift and you allow the story time to develop fully, then you'll see the greater value of this movie and the eventual emotional payoff you're fated to get once things reach fruition.

Given the many settings in the movie, expect a judicious use of subtitles, unless you happen to be fluent in Italian, German, French and Chinese at the very least. This all the more forces you to give the movie adequate focus and attention in order to keep up with the events and the interplay of characters and what the violin may or may not be influencing somehow.

Overall, The Red Violin is a great example of a movie with a power story to tell - well, several stories in this case. But you can't appreciate the smaller pieces without knowledge of the greater whole and thus all elements come together quite nicely in the end. It gets 4 instances of the mother's haunting melody following the violin out of a possible 5.

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