The Red Violin movie review, Francois Girard, Samuel L. Jackson

A scene from 'The Red Violin'
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**** stars
(In English, subtitled French & Chinese)
128 minutes | Unrated
LIMITED: Friday, June 18, 1999
Co-written & directed by Francois Girard

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi, Carlo Cecchi, Irene Garzioli, Anita Laurenzi, Jean-Luc Bideau, Christoph Koncz, Jason Flemyng, Silvia Chang, Liu Zi Feng, Monique Mercure, Don McKellar, Colm Feore

This movie is on the Best of 1999 list.

  • Interview with director Francois Girard
  • Unrelated interview with co-writer &
        co-star Don McKellar


    A beautifully envisioned, small-scale epic, perfect for a hot-chocolate, curl-up-on-the-couch, rainy/snowy Saturday afternoon. But even if the weather's fine, don't miss this - it's one of the best films of 1999.

       VIDEO RELEASE: 12.14.1999
       NEW DVD RELEASE: 05.20.2003
    There are no notable bonus features on this disc save a few trailers ("The Red Violin," "Affliction," "Buffalo '66"), and there is one BIG problem -- the subtitles are either on (including English) or off (none at all). This proves annoying and becomes a major distraction from this brilliant film. The transfer has a few one-frame imperfections here and there, but it's a nice, crisp picture worthy of the movie's beautiful imagery. Pity so little effort was put into making a worthwhile DVD.


    RATIO: 1.85:1 (not 16x9 enhanced)
    SOUND: 5.1 Dolby
    DUBS: none
    SUBS: English, Spanish

    Very good

    DVD RATING: *1/2

  • Samuel L. Jackson
  • Greta Scacchi
  • Jason Flemyng
  • Colm Feore

  •  LINKS for this film
    at Rotten Tomatoes
    at Internet Movie Database
    'Red Violin' a sensual symphony of music, masterful movie-making

    By Rob Blackwelder

    Like a blending of great symphony and great cinema, "The Red Violin" is a magnum opus of musical-visual composition for French-Canadian director Francois Girard ("Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould").

    The biography of a masterpiece musical instrument and its globetrotting passage through centuries of owners, this is a film overflowing with fervent movements of pathos, seductive tempos of passion, tragic refrains of sorrow and a riveting, recurring chorus that ties every measure beautifully together.

    The resourcefully framed story of a violin set adrift in time begins in modern Montreal where the tattered yet still magnificent instrument is being sold at auction, with emotional bids ardently exchanged by several interested parties.

    We don't yet know who any of them are, but as the movie visits several centuries past, the fully realized histories of several owners fill in small details of the modern story. Each passage leads back to the auction through an expert appraiser (Samuel L. Jackson in a penetrating departure performance) who is trying to substantiate his suspicion that this violin -- which he discovered amongst a shipment of Western instruments discarded by the Chinese government -- is in fact the legendary Red Violin created by a 17th Century master named Nicolo Bussotti.

    The film's first vignette begins with Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi), a ruthlessly demanding craftsman who creates the near-flawless fiddle for his unborn son. But when the baby and his beautiful wife die in childbirth, he becomes obsessed with imbuing the instrument with her spirit so that she may live on in some way.

    Girard -- who co-wrote the script with Don McKellar, his "Glen Gould" collaborator -- then follows the violin to an orphanage, where it is passed down for from child to child until it becomes inseparable from a 7-year-old prodigy, played with fantastic intensity by Christoph Koncz, a young musical marvel of the real-life variety.

    This passage is clearly the Red Violin's own childhood and after it is carried off by gypsies in an inventive montage of generations of nomadic musicians, it becomes the property of Frederick Pope (Jason Flemyng), a rakish, aristocratic English virtuoso whose playing becomes a thing of unmistakably sensual fervency upon his acquisition of the instrument.

    Pope's lustful but doomed affair with a beautiful, changeable novelist (Greta Scacchi) represents the violin's puberty and sexual awakening, while the third parable journeys with the violin to China, where it languishes unnoticed for decades in a pawn shop until it is purchased for young Xiang Pei (Sylvia Chang), who in her Cultural Revolution-era adulthood will have to choose between it and her loyalty to the ethnocentric Communist party.

    Girard skimps nowhere in bringing the Red Violin to life through those whose lives are affected by its enigmatic perfection. Sumptuous visual cues and a potent soundtrack -- centering around soloist Joshua Bell lending voice to the violin -- compliment the inventively crafted story and the absorbingly nuanced -- if brief -- performances in each movement of this cinematic concerto.

    With his audience rapt, the director concludes with coda that returns to the auction, finally shown in its entirety as Jackson's now spellbound appraiser and characters with ties to each historical vignette make their plays for the Red Violin.

    Girard spent five years researching, writing and filming this mesmerizing but understated epic, and every moment of his work paid off. "The Red Violin" is magic.


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