RED VIOLIN, THE
Cesca (Anita Laurenzi), the Bussottis' housekeeper and reader of the Tarot, reluctantly
reads the cards for her pregnant and fearful mistress, Anna (Irene Graziloi). When she
dies in childbirth, master violinmaker Nicolo Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi) is heartbroken. He
completes his masterpiece violin - intended for his child - in their memory, and gives it
a unique, red varnish. The violin passes through many hands and many adventures, from its
birthplace in Cremona, Italy, to Vienna, Oxford, Shanghai and Montreal. It is played by
gypsies and virtuosos alike, by children and veterans, by lovers and by collectors. What
began as a perfect musical instrument, has become an item of enormous dollar value, and
for some, an object of desire for its own intrinsic worth. Who could have imagined such
adventures - except perhaps Cesca. . .
"Heaven's orchestra must be lead by the violin, an instrument that can elicit the
most beautiful, soulful sounds and make us cry. Just as a bow paints musical colours as it
caresses the strings, so too the journey of this violin, symbolic of passion, love, joy
and yearning. Poetic and romantic in the true sense, The Red Violin is an ambitious tale
that takes us on a mesmerising journey of discovery. Shot in five languages in as many
countries, François Girard's passionate story is intriguingly structured, weaving in and
out of the present, as we follow the course of the violin's destiny from its origins. We
dip in and out of different times, beginning in Cremona, where a master violin maker
obsessively channels his very essence into this 'marriage of science and beauty'. We are
captured by each and everyone whose life it touches; each adds his pathos and dreams
therein. Our journey ventures into the lives of rich, poor, free, politically constricted.
And all the time, we are guided by the inevitability of the old gypsy's tarot cards, which
have predetermined its destiny. Symbolic, moving and beautifully shot, The Red Violin is
glorious to look at, and its magnificent music will make your heart soar and weep all at
once. I must mention a frustrating structural flaw, as some of the flash forwards are not
well enough explained. This somewhat spoils parts of the story, which is rather too long.
I question too, the credibility of a scene in which copious sexual activity is suggested
– all while playing the violin like a virtuoso. But these reservations aside, The Red
Violin is a rich marriage of imaginative storytelling and music that will open your
receptacles for an emotional experience."
"Marvellously evocative with its superb cinematography and production design, The
Red Violin is also an epic love story in which the loved one is the violin. This is the
instrument that makes the soul cry for joy and the heart ache with pain in equal measure
and often in rapid succession. In this case, the curiously red violin can also make the
wallet sag, its age and beauty now up for sale to the highest bidder, after three
centuries of multiple ownerships, ranging from raging gypsies to raving rascals of musical
genius. Playing like a historic world tour, The Red Violin is an ambitious film with a
great story to tell, structured in concertina fashion, with several elements inter-laced.
There are some excellent performances from a large and varied cast, and the music is
always sublime. But the film also has flaws that gnaw at us, such as the jarring omission
of a couple of plot points that undermine the story's credibility - and the labouring of
the structural device that takes us repeatedly to the auction room scene that forms the
contemporary platform for the story. And as Louise mentions, the supposedly erotic Jason
Flemyng/Greta Scacchi sequences (in Oxford) turn out to a bit laughable. On the other
hand, Jean-Luc Bideau delivers a memorable Georges Poussin with an equally impressive
young Christoph Koncz (in Vienna) in one of the best of the cameo-stories within the film.
It's not faultless but it is energetic and audio-visually satisfying, if a little
Andrew L. Urban
"Expectations aren't met in director Francois Girard's follow-up to his wonderful 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. This episodic offering, structured along the same lines as The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964) and John Badham's excellent 1974 telemovie The Gun, could be sub-titled 'Two interesting stories about The Red Violin, Two dull ones and one really dumb one'. The framing segments involving Bussoti's wife Anna (Irene Grazioli)
being told her fortune by housemaid/clairvoyant Cesca (Anita Laurenzi) register in the same cheesy way as an episode of Tales Of The Unexpected (remember that on late night TV??) but there are compensations. The sequences set in cultural revolution China are fascinating and very well acted by Taiwanese star Sylvia Chang, playing a party member and violin owner at a time when the two were not compatible. Scenes of flag-waving,
street marching and the Chairman Mao personality cult in full swing are extremely well staged, making the denoument of this passage genuinely moving. The contemporary scenes leading to the auction are fragmented at first before hitting their stride thanks to reliable Samuel L. Jackson's performance as an expert too close to his work and Canadian stalwart Don McKellar as his tech-head sidekick. Matters are only so-so while the
violin's in Austria and France in the hands of child prodigy Kaspar Weiss (Christoph Koncz) and they're utterly ridiculous when Greta Scacchi rattles her charms in front of English composer and opium fancier Pope. Watch the scene where she "plays" him while he's playing and I dare you not to laugh. With 40 minutes cut out of what's a long and talky 130 this might have stood out. The beautiful music is there but the human factor lets it down too often."
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The Red Violin, begins in 17th
century Cremona, in the fictional workshop of master violin maker Nicolo Bussotti.
L. URBAN visited 20th century Cremona to find the lutemakers still build the
world's finest violins, in the tradition of the past masters.
SOFCOM MOVIE TIMES
RED VIOLIN, THE
CAST: Carlo Cecchi, Irene Grazioli, Anita Laurenzi, Jean-Luc Bideau, Christoph Koncz,
Greta Scacchi, Jason Flemyng, Sylvia Chang, Liu Zi Feng, Monique Mercure, Don McKellar,
Colm Feore and Samuel L. Jackson.
DIRECTOR: Francois Girard
PRODUCER: Niv Fichman
SCRIPT: Don McKellar with Francois Girard
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alain Dostie
EDITOR: Gaetan Huot
MUSIC: John Corigliano
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francois Seguin
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 9, 1999
LANGUAGES: English / Mandarin / Italian / German / French