The simple fact of its survival is a credible miracle considering that other superb violins have survived war, climate, and general neglect in the chain of ownership.
The Red Violin is an uneven, often confusing film that wins the day with the sheer force of a good story. What could be more appealing than the travels through 300 years of history of an exquisite violin that is the fictional masterpiece of an Italian master craftsman named Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi)? The simple fact of its survival is a credible miracle considering that other superb violins have survived war, climate, and general neglect in the chain of ownership.
The legendary red violin is on the auction block in present-day Montreal. It's authenticity, which will determine the price, is being debated in the backrooms by the manipulators of the contemporary music world. Primary among them is expert Charles Morritz, played here in a bit of embarrassingly bad casting by Samuel L. Jackson. As the experts haggle, the movie cuts back and forth through time between the auction room and Italy, Austria, England, and Shanghai.
Violin maker Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi) gives his newly finished masterpiece to his pregnant wife in honor of their unborn child. We have seen Bussotti install his signature label inside the instrument, and we will watch it discovered 300 years later. The journey from Bussotti's workshop to Montreal's auction room is fascinating. But if the violin is perfect, the journey is bumpy.
The century it spends in the youth orphans' orchestra of an Austrian monastery works well, capped as it is by the playing of six-year-old prodigy Kasper Weiss (Christoph Koncz). After making its way through the hands of a band of curiously undefined gypsies, it lands in England, where it endures a nearly fatal melodramatic episode. Frederick Pope (Jason Flemyng), the mad artist, makes continual love to his violin and his woman, often at the same time, generating in us the prayer for a kinder, gentler next stop. Not to be.
Next stop: Communist China, where brutality toward western music robbed a generation of classical musicians of the joy of their music. If you doubt this for a minute, watch the documentary made a few years ago of a Chinese violinist, tears rolling down his face, playing in public for the first time after decades of imprisonment under Mao. In the Shanghai segment, Xiang Pei (Sylvia Chang) gives a fine no-nonsense performance as the conflicted owner of the red violin.
With the violin finally under laboratory scrutiny in Montreal, we watch bidders emerge from the past. The stage is set for a twist that will pull the threads of history together. It comes, but in the hands of the otherwise marvelous Samuel L. Jackson, it falls flat. And yet, the premise is so absorbing, the score by John Corigliano so powerful, the appeal of the journey so strong, that the story holds us even when the telling of it disappoints. Listen to the music, and think about the red violin. It's quite enough.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 495
Studio : Lions Gate Films
Rating : NR
Running time : 2h10m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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