The Violin of Carrie! Sorry, I Mean The Red Violin

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I loved the Red Violin. 95% of this movie was perfect. Beautiful story and acting. Stunning cinematography. As I was watching it, I thought, maybe for the first time since I started my blog, I will actually get to score a movie 10 out of 10. I think I jinxed it, because ten minutes from the ending, the movie shoots itself in the foot.

This Canadian movie, directed by Francois Gerard, was released in 1998 and follows the story of a unique violin, both in color and quality. The plot of the movie starts with the creation of the violin, when it is made by Nicolo Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi) in 1600’s Italy right before his wife (Irene Gazioli) dies giving birth to a stillborn child. The story then follows the violin’s journey as it goes across countries and continents, falling into the hands of diverse owners, until it is finally being inspected by expert Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson) in modern day Montreal so it can eventually be auctioned off for a fortune.

As I said, most of this movie is a piece of art. And has some of the best music you can ever hear. I’m actually quite surprised that it worked so well because usually movies with a lot of characters do not work so well (yes, I’m talking about movies like Love Actually, He’s Just not That Into You, and those God awful movies named after a holiday with a star-studded cast of twenty people. When will Hollywood stop making those?) The problem of those movies is when you have a bunch of characters without a distinct main character, you can only give so much time to each character, and the audience can’t connect with any one of them. They don’t connect, they don’t care. They don’t care, that’s when the audience starts coming up with their grocery lists in the theater. The movie has just failed. Now, I’m sure some of you are going to protest, saying “Hey hey hey, what about Lord of the Rings? Those movies were wildly successful, and they had a bunch of characters.” You’re right. However, the difference is that you have a distinct main character. Everything is really about Frodo. Because of that, characters aren’t competing for attention and the audience can connect. Interestingly, The Red Violin also pulls a large cast off in a strange way. This movie also has a distinct main character, but it’s an inanimate object: the Red Violin. It could also be argued that the violin represents Bussotti’s wife. Since everything is about the violin, it doesn’t matter that there is such a big cast, because the only important story is the story of that red instrument.

And then we get to the ending, when Gerard suddenly decided to shift into a Quentin Tarantino mode for no good reason. Charles Morritz is inspecting the violin to get it prepared for auction, and he discovers the violin is red because Bussotti varnished it with the blood of his dead wife. Yay! I’m gonna use an instrument like a tampon! Now, I can understand what Gerard is trying to do here. It takes a figurative connection between the violin and his wife and makes it literal. But I don’t think it was needed, especially considering it was a piece of information never brought up afterwards. This scene feels very forced because it has such a different tone compared to the rest of the film, and I think keeping the connection between the violin and Bussotti’s wife figurative is more powerful, because the audience is not being clubbed over the head with the metaphor.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the movie also suddenly becomes a heist flick where Charles Morritz just has to steal the Red Violin for his daughter, because apparently, all the little girls want instruments that can give them AIDS. I guess Samuel L. Jackson just can’t be in an actionless movie. But just like the previous scene, this plot twist felt very forced, and I think something much more subtle would have been more powerful.

So, no 10 for The Red Violin. But the amazing quality of most of the film earns it a solid 8.

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