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In 1681 Cremona, Italy, pregnant Anna Bussotti (Irene Grazioli) has her fortune told by her servant Cesca (Anita Laurenzi). However, she somehow confuses Anna's future with the future of a newly created violin. Her husband Nicolo (Carlo Cecchi) is a master violin maker who has just created this violin that he considers to be his finest creation for his soon to be born child.
We see how the violin is passed from person to person throughout the centuries, knowing that it will wind up in an auction house in present day Montreal. It is the highlight of the auction. The various threads of the violin's past catch up with it in this auction house in the faces of potential bidders. What will become of this prize and how has it touched lives throughout the centuries that make it so sought after?
The tarot cards
When I saw Cesca (Anita Laurenzi) telling Anna's (Irene Grazioli's) future with tarot cards, I knew something wasn't right. Tarot cards have been around since the 14th century and have known to be used in Italy, so it seemed proper to have them in 1681 Cremona, Italy.
However, it wasn't until 1781 that the Tarot was to be used as a means of divination by Antoine Court de Gébelin. Before that, they were used as playing cards for noblemen. It doesn't absolutely rule out the possibility that servants used noblemen cards for fortune telling in 1681, but it does seem almost impossible that they were.
The travels of the red violin
The red violin makes various stops in its long life. The picture is really several short stories that are related only by this violin. It's created in Cremona, Italy, travels to Vienna, makes a noticeable stop in Oxford, England, makes its way to Shanghai, China, and finally it is discovered and sold at auction in Montreal, Canada. In each locale, there is a story to be told.
Is this historically accurate?
All of the characters in this film are fictional. There is no master violin maker named Nicolo Bussotti. There is no child prodigy named Kaspar Weiss or famous violin teacher named Georges Poussin in Vienna. There is no Prince Mansfeld of Vienna that Weiss performs before in this film in the late 17th century to the present. There are no noteworthy British musicians named Frederick Pope. There is no one famous in the scenes in Shanghai, China, so I'm going to say they were fictional also. Therefore there could be no such red violin.
The film does have an accurate feel to it, but there are many elements that are not historically accurate. However, it's hard to tell the difference so most probably won't notice.
Isn't it possible that some of this is based on a true story?
I can't rule it out completely. It certainly is possible that a violin can survive three centuries; it has been known to happen. It is not unbelievable that a violin would travel the world before being rediscovered.
Other than the general feel of the locales this violin has been in, there is nothing factual about it's history. It is possible some of the names dropped in this picture were lost to history, but I feel comfortable in saying they did not exist.
The actors and their characters
The red violin is the star of this picture. It has many characteristics that make it interesting. Why is Anna Bussotti's future tied to this violin? Why is it red? Why is it the object of intense fascination? I can't reveal any of these questions without ruining the film.
All of the other actors merely support the red violin.
Samuel L. Jackson (Charles Morritz) is the closest thing to a human star in this picture. He is in present day Montreal trying to ascertain that his discovery is the famous red violin that is the last work of Nicolo Bussotti and the instrument that the famous Frederick Pope used. He seems miscast in his role, but he does it credibly. There is a wonderful scene were Mr. Ruselsky (Ireneusz Bogajewicz) a rich fat crude amateur music lover brutally plays and usurps the violin that only Morritz (Jackson) thinks might be the famed violin. The look on his face is supposed to denote the torture that it may be taken by the unworthy Ruselsky, yet he is also captivated by the perfect resonance of the violin at the same time. It was reasonably acted and for me it was one of the highlights of the film.
Don McKeller and François Girard also made the famed "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould". This film could have been titled "Five Short Films about a Violin".
There is some symbolism throughout the film that makes it truly stand out. The structure of the film is not ordinary since it has to piece together these five short stories together well. Because of these things, you have to be in the mood to pay attention.
I can only give this film a marginal thumbs up, and I'm sure many people are going to yell at me for doing so. It's not historically accurate, except for the locales, the writing of the film is mediocre, and the acting is serviceable but not exceptional.
I assure you that the extensive research I had to do to write this review did not make me rate it lower than it deserves. It's easy to find a reference to a known historical figure, but far more difficult to ascertain whether someone never existed. I found this pursuit to be quite aggravating because I was hoping that at least one person mentioned was real.
Probably some of the fascination people had with this film was because it mentions a lot they didn't know. The reason for this was that no one knew it because it was almost all fictional.
The structure of this film has made many love this film. Its structure is wonderful, but it's hardly much of a lesson in history, most of the moments in this film are not original and many times these movie moments lie very flat.
Don't be intimidated. You don't have to say you loved this film because it focuses on classical music and various locales in the last three centuries. It is a good picture, but it's not a must see.
While appropriate for children over 13, they would probably be bored with it. If you're in the mood to see a subtle tale with some symbolism in it, then this should satisfy that taste. However, don't elevate this picture as being something extraordinary.
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