The Red Violin, DVD version
Five out of five stars
The star of this movie is a violin, the last one made by master violin-maker Nicolò Bussotti in 1681. His wife Anna is pregnant and she asks her trusted servant to use tarot cards to read her future. It is a complicated one, told in snippets, one card at a time.
When Anna dies in childbirth the distraught Bussotti finishes the violin currently in production, using a varnish with very unusual properties. That violin survives over three centuries of travel and use, it becomes known as “the red violin” and eventually ends up in a Montreal auction house that sells rare musical instruments.
The star of the movie is the violin as it passes from person to person and is moved from country to country. Several different languages are used in the course of the movie as the location is changed. At times the language is Italian, then German, French, Mandarin Chinese and even Romani. English subtitles are available. The use of the language of the situation is a powerful positive feature of the movie, it would have been ridiculous if the people in the different locations would have all conversed in English.
Some knowledge of history will be helpful in understanding some aspects of the movie. Specifically the events of the cultural revolution that took place in China in the late 1960s. It was a time when anti-western sentiment was very high, leading to the demotion of western music and even the destruction of musical instruments.
The temporal flow of the movie is not sequential, when the servant is using the tarot cards to read the future of Anna she is in fact declaring the future of the violin. A card is overturned, the servant speaks and then the time is shifted to a new phase in the life of the violin. There are many situations where it is very fortunate that the violin survives to be used again and eventually be appreciated.
This is in many ways an artsy movie, not for every viewer. There is very little physical action, but some tension regarding the fate of the violin. All of the loose ends are tied up as each of the cards are revealed and the trials and tribulations of a musical instrument are displayed and explained.