Where was this music before it came here
To strum my emotions and tickle my ear?
Where did this instrument formerly play
Before it revived to distinguish this day?
In hand-crafted wood, in dormancy kept,
Awaiting their moment, the melodies slept
Until the right hand, the right passion and skill
Compelled euphony from its prison to spill.
What hearts has it shattered? What lives has it blessed,
As lifelong companion or transient guest?
I cannot be sure of what lies in repose
In the unwritten symphony it alone knows.
MPAA rating: R (mainly for a couple scenes with unnecessary nudity)
My VC obviously knows what I like. I had never even heard of this Canadian drama, but the way she described it piqued my interest. Indeed, it turned out to be exactly what I’d hoped, a Meet-‘Em-and-Move-On movie, my favorite unofficial subgenre in which a character’s life or journey introduces them to a parade of acquaintances and influences that typically brings their story full circle. Forrest Gump and War Horse are good examples, but whereas those follow a person or animal, The Red Violin follows the titular instrument as it passes from owner to owner through centuries, finding new meaning in the hands of each player.
The Red Violin is really five stories in one, and while it’s not as potentially confusing as Cloud Atlas, the narrative does jump around a bit. In a way, it begins at the end, with the violin being put up for auction, before leaping back to its creation at the hands of an Italian master (Carlo Cecchi) in 1681. From there, the violin passes on to 18th-century Austria, 19th-century England, and Communist China. I absolutely loved the editing that wove connections between stories that share little in common other than the violin. In between each new tale, we return to the 1600s, where the violin maker’s wife receives a tarot card reading, and we revisit the auction house in 1997, where every bidder has a unique reason for wanting this particular violin.
There’s a great deal of authenticity to each vignette, allowing us to grasp the time and place even without an explanatory subtitle. Each tale plays out in the language of the country—Italian, German, English, Chinese, etc.—and there aren’t many recognizable actors to call attention to themselves, Samuel L. Jackson being the only big name star. (Some may also recognize Jason Flemying, Colm Feore, and Greta Scacchi.) The music is fantastic, both the feigned violin playing itself and the compositions, both graceful and aggressive, by John Corrigliano, who won the Oscar for Best Score, and it adds even more sophistication to the elegant camerawork and production design.By the end, I wasn’t positive how I felt about The Red Violin, but my admiration for it has grown with time. I especially admire how, in its journey through history, the violin becomes a symbol of everything music can stand for: a true love, a damaging obsession, an inspiring muse, a steep cost, a science to study, a cause for persecution, a treasure worth protecting. It’s imperfectly ambitious and didn’t provoke the strong emotions I usually expect from a Meet-‘Em-and-Move-On, but it was still an engaging and epic journey, punctuated by a revelation that wasn’t exactly a twist but more of a slow realization confirmed by the end. Beautiful, sad, and passionate in equal measure, The Red Violin is proof that my VC’s tastes sometimes do match my own.
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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