Le violon rouge [The Red Violin] (1998)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Le violon rouge</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">The Red Violin</strong>] (1998)

(In French, On Cable TV, October 2018) As someone who like cinematic form experimentation, there’s no way I wasn’t going to be interested in Le Violon Rouge, a Canadian film tacking not a single character, but a single object through centuries. Here, the story begins in the late seventeenth century, as a grieving violin-maker coats a new violin with a substance of particular meaning. From that dramatic starting point, we follow the violin through Vienna (1793), Oxford (1890s), Shanghai (1960s) and Montréal (1997) as the violin changes hands, creates passions and undergoes surprising changes in fate. As a concept, it’s quite lovely—there are a lot of novels of the sort (or close to it—see the bibliography of James A. Michener and Edward Rutherfurd) but for obvious reasons it’s a much harder form to do as a film—juggling several time periods is a nightmare in itself, not to mention the added production costs. As a result, I can’t help but compare the potential of Le violon rouge with its execution and being slightly disappointed—more time periods, stronger dramatic ironies, perhaps a longer running time in the form of a miniseries could have done the best justice to the idea. Still, what we do have with the finished film in 131 minutes isn’t negligible—the editing hopping back and forth between 1997 Montréal and earlier time period is admirable enough, but writer/director François Girard’s juggling of a large cast of character and five separate languages is an amazing feat in itself. Samuel L. Jackson, Colm Feore, Sandra Oh, French-Canadian cinema fixture Remy Girard and none other than Canadian director Don McKellar (who also co-wrote the film) are only some of the names in the ensemble cast. While Le violon rouge does have flaws, it’s also quite an interesting experiment in cinema itself and does warrant a look if that’s the kind of thing that interests you.

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