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Friday, July 12, 2024


This weekend's "Cinema Sunday" offering at the Reichhold Center for the Arts is The Red Violin, an ambitious adventure that offers a little something for every genre of film buff beyond those addicted to what today is understatedly labeled "action."
The 1998 Canadian production (Le Violon rouge) encompasses three centuries of international history and politics, war, romance, sex, silliness, mysticism, intrigue, deceit and the requisite marvelous musical score.
Roger Ebert describes the motion picture as "the story of a violin (‘the single most perfect acoustical machine I've even seen,' says a restorer) from its maker in 17th Century Italy to an auction room in modern Montreal. The violin passes from the rich to the poor, from Italy to Poland to England to China to Canada. It is shot, buried, almost burned and stolen more than once."
The story unfolds in flashbacks after the film opens at an auction in modern-day Montreal where the "red violin," received by the auction house in a shipment of miscellaneous goods from China, is about to go on the block. The violin itself is the star of this movie, in its passionate performances of music ranging from Baroque to modern. But fave movie bad-guy Samuel L. Jackson's character, Charles Morritz, an unscrupulous New York expert hired by the auction house to restore the instrument, is the ultimate pivotal figure.
The film is "heedlessly ambitious," in Ebert's view, with "the kind of sweep and vision that we identify with elegant features from decades ago — films that followed a story thread from one character to another, such as Tales of Manhattan, La Ronde, The Yellow Rolls Royce, and, in this decade, The Slacker.
Those less impressed might see it more along the lines of Circle of Love, a '60s pop color caricature of the high-drama '50s black and white La Ronde.
New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden calls it an "extravagant time-traveling costume drama tracing the 300-year life of a priceless hand-crafted violin." He summarizes the sequences: "Over the course of three centuries, the violin makes its way from 17th Century Italy (Cremona) to 18th Century Austria (Vienna) to a tribe of mountain-dwelling gypsies to 19th Century England (Oxford) to Communist China (Shanghai) and finally to contemporary Canada (Montreal)." Each vignette, he says, is "a gaudy historical tableau illustrating a particular society's relationship to European classical music."
To give a few more clues: We follow the violin from its maker (with a tarot card reader predicting its course) to an order of monks to an orphan child prodigy to a band of gypsies to a famous virtuoso violinist to a Chinese pawnshop at the time of the Cultural Revolution to the auction house in Montreal.
While Holder critiques the plot development as cliches, he hails John Corigliano's "ravishing score" that features Joshua Bell on violin with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen.
The Reichhold Center itself in publicity material summaries the film as "a stirring and sumptuous epic that spans five countries, four languages and more than 300 years or history and cultural change."
The Red Violin won the 1999 Genie and Jutra Awards for best motion picture and the 1998 Tokyo International Film Festival Award for best artistic contribution.
Directed by François Gerard, the picture was filmed largely in English, with some subtitles. Running time is 130 minutes. It's unrated.

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