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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Red Violin (1998)



Reviews and Comments

The Red Violin is an entrancing movie. It's fresh, vibrant, and completely absorbing. I'm not even sure why it held my interest so firmly, except that it's an original idea executed with genius. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.

The story is that of a violin, from its creation by a master craftsman in 1681 to the present day. It changes hands several times, and the movie tells the stories of those whose hands it falls into in flashbacks that double as flashforwards. This idea has been used before but never in such a compelling manner. The movie opens at an auction in modern day Montreal, and this moment is also the climax of the film. We come to know those interested in bidding on the violin, so that, by the end of the film, we have learned more about what's happening at these critical moments than any linear storytelling style could convey.

For a film so subtle and low-key, The Red Violin has a wealth of surprises, passion, intrigue, you name it. There's a bit of everything, and it's all sewn together into a beautifully unified whole. Stranger and even more fascinating, the film is shot in five different languages: English, Italian, German, French, and Mandarin.

There's no way I can convey the essence of this movie to you, let alone illustrate how enticing it is. It is great enough that only it can do itself justice. But I will say this much, on a personal note. When I see antiques, sometimes my imagination gets carried away: I wonder what kind of life they saw and how they came to be in the places and conditions they are now. There's a moment in The Red Violin where a present day restorer looks at a spot of damage on the violin, scoffs at an old-fashioned repair attempt, and wonders how he'll restore it properly. Earlier in the film, we saw how it incurred that damage and also saw the initial repair job. How often does anyone see that much of the picture? It's simply fascinating that the violin's story isn't less than what I might have imagined it to be but more.