Wednesday, November 4, 2009

'The Red Violin' is a fascinating, artsy drama

The Red Violin (1999)
Starring: Irene Gratzioli, Anita Lorenzi, Jean-Luc Bideau, Kristoph Koncz, Jason Flemyng, Sylvia Chang, Colm Feore and Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Francois Girard
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A 17th century violin maker creates the perfect violin that ends up causing heartbreak and tragedy as it moves through history toward its destiny.

The friend who recommended I see this movie did so because he felt the violin at its center was just like the cursed objects in the fictional world of Ravenloft I used to contribute to. They, like the violin in this movie seems to be, are charged with supernatural energies that lead those of impure hearts to destruction while usually have no effect or actually bringing beneficial circumstances to the users who are either selfless or who purposefully or by accident help the item fulfill whatever purpose it has been imbued with.

While this is by no means a horror film--nor is it a thriller, despite what the marketing monkey who wrote the cover for the home video version would like buyers to think--my friend was right about the red violin. Its creation (including its shocking secret), the effects is has on those who come into possession of it, and even the method by which the story is being told to the viewers, is very much in keeping with the tone that we strove to establish in the best of the Ravenloft products that were produced. I particularly like the fact that the story is being told by way of flashbacks to a Tarot reading as the violin maker was working on his creation--it's a nice mechanism to organize the film and it introduces the supernatural element in a definate but subtle way.

Although there are ghosties or ghoulies in this film, I think it is a movie that those who enjoy more subtle horror films will like. Something is definitely going on with the red violin, as it's more than coincidence that as it wanders through the years that the moment a person in control of it tries to use it for some sort of personal gain or glory, something bad happens to them.

The film is also skilled and very beautifully shot. The various locations around the world that the film takes place in are nicely captured both through the fantastic cinematography and through the well-crafted script that evokes the personalities of the people living in those times and places with an economic precision needed for a film that essentially tells five separate stories in the space most movies spend on telling one. (I think if one particularly dimwitted member of the Barack Obama administration saw this movie and accepted the fictional version of Chairman Mao's China seen in this film, as opposed to the fictional realm of a worker's paradise brimming with freedom and equality that she imagines, she wouldn't be so quick to praise Mao and his Cultural Revolution. Although... I suppose it's to everyone one's benefit to know that the President of the United States grants positions of power to men and women who admire murderous dictators and the totalitarian regimes they lead.)

For an unusual and moving viewing experience, "The Red Violin" is the place to look. It's an artfully done movie that features the highest level of craftsmanship from all involved. It's not the movie equivalent of the red violin, but it's pretty darn good.

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