Red Violin

The opening moments introduce us to the studio of Nicolo Bussoti, a world of alchemy where magic and music are molded together into one form. The instruments must be perfect in order to insure the music will have a superior tone. Unreservedly, we follow the causeway demanded by the fates and fortunes of a red violin. The voice of this particular instrument becomes only truly clarified when we finally discover, approaching the end of the tale, the reason why it breathes so delicately and possesses such a penetrating sound, at least for those who are equipped to recognize its mystical qualities.

The Red Violin
© RCV Film Distribution BV

This gothic history spans three centuries that, joined together, reveal its hidden secret which has for so long has been buried away, time and again, in one way or another, only to be resurrected and take its present place of honor. Its mysterious beauty is overwhelming and its charm is more ominous than that of the Hope diamond. Its deepest secret cannot be revealed in these passages; for that you will have to see the movie.

Director Francois Girard has created a fascinating series of diverse episodes that convey us through a sedate, but turbulent world filled with quiet passions and intense feelings. The transcending element in each is the instrument that survives triumphantly the short lives surrounding it. Each period is punctuated by the story of one owner whose life was influenced by the presence of the red violin. Shot in five languages over a period of six months, the movie is a symphony of world sounds and images.

Busotti (Carlo Cecchi), the violinmaker, creates his masterpiece shortly before his wife (Irene Grazioli) dies in childbirth. Like a man possessed, he turns this instrument into the renowned red violin, which must remain an everlasting tribute imbued with the spirit of his lost wife and child. Once away from home, the violin begins its journey inside an Austrian monastery winding up in the hands of the young, talented child, Kasper Weiss (Christoph Koncz) in 1792. Shortly afterwards, the violin is buried away until it is retrieved by a band of roving gypsies.

In 1893, the strains of the chords are heard by composer and violinist Frederick Pope (Jason Fleming) who manages to become the next owner and fiddle wildly like the devil on a spree. Pope's unorthodox lifestyle includes, among other indulgences, a temperamental relationship with the novelist Victoria Byrd (Greta Scacchi) which is destined to end with an even more distant voyage for the red violin. This one commences when Pope's Chinese manservant (Stuart Ong), who counted the frequent supplying of cherished opium to his ex-employer among his duties, secretly carries the instrument off to a pawnbroker in Shanghai. Eventually, it is purchased by a woman who leaves it to her daughter, who will be forced, as a grown woman (Xiang Pei) to hide her musical treasure away during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Years after the Revolution ends, the violin is sent to Montreal where an expert called Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson) is busy appraising its value for auction. And with this the tale begins to come full circle. From one hand to another, the red violin has traveled from maker to child to gypsy to composer to activist to auctioneer and from Italy to Austria to England to China and, finally, to Montreal. But, even after arrival in Canada, its travels seem to be far from ended.

All of the actors perform elegantly, sharing the screen respectfully with their partners without attempting to outshine one another, which is befitting to a piece with many compositions. The score is beautiful, but remains polite in never taking a disturbing precedence over the entire scope of the production.

Perhaps you question whether this story is based upon fact. Well, haven't you ever heard of the noted 17th century violinmaker Bussoti?

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett