The Red Violin

Watch The Red Violin

  • R
  • 1998
  • 2 hr 11 min
  • 7.6  (34,439)
  • 57

The Red Violin is an award-winning 1998 film directed by Canadian filmmaker François Girard. The film is centered around a legendary red violin that was crafted in the late seventeenth century in Cremona, Italy, by a master luthier named Nicolo Bussotti, who imbued the instrument with both extraordinary beauty and mystique. The movie weaves together five different stories that span four centuries, each vignette exploring how the instrument has impacted the lives of its various owners, and also provides a broader commentary on the transformative power of music.

The first story takes place in the present day and follows the violin's journey to an auction house, where expert Charles Morritz, played by Samuel L. Jackson, tries to authenticate the instrument while uncovering its mysterious history. The next segment traces the violin's origins in seventeenth-century Italy, where it was played by Anna Rameau, a gifted but forbidden musician who must keep her true passion for music a secret. The story then jumps ahead a few decades, where the instrument falls into the hands of a young orphan prodigy, Kaspar Weiss, who is taken under the wing of the famous Austrian composer George Poussin, played by Jean-Luc Bideau. The fourth story is set in Shanghai in the 1960s, when the instrument is owned by a government official's family and disappears during the Cultural Revolution. The final segment is set in Montreal and follows Samuel L. Jackson's character as he uncovers the truth about the violin's past.

Each story possesses a distinct style and is set against the backdrop of not just history but also the culture and music of the time period. For example, the seventeenth-century Italy segment perfectly captures the sensuality and grandeur of the era, with its sumptuous cinematography, lavish costumes, and artful use of musical score. In contrast, the final segment is marked by a more modern aesthetic, with a muted color palette and jarring, staccato editing, as Charles Morritz races against time to unlock the violin's secrets.

The film's score, composed by John Corigliano, is a remarkable achievement in itself, reflecting the unique cultural and historical contexts of each timeline. The film begins with Morritz examining the violin in Montreal, as Corigliano's score provides a haunting, spine-tingling backdrop, foreshadowing the film's many twists and turns. The seventeenth-century segment's score is appropriately Baroque and layered, with echoing vocals and graceful violin lines. The nineteenth-century sequence's score has a romantic, operatic feel, building to a crescendo paired with Bideau's electrifying performance as the mentor to the orphaned prodigy. The twentieth-century sequences use a range of musical styles, from the sharp, discordant sounds of revolutionary China to the more romantic, sweeping melodies of the 1960s.

Despite the disparate timelines and settings, the film finds common themes in each vignette, primarily the idea that the red violin has the power to transform and incite great passions. Each of the owners, from Anna Rameau to Charles Morritz, tap into the red violin's magic, finding that it has the ability to elicit both profound happiness and devastating heartbreak. Furthermore, the idea that art can transcend time and space is a powerful through-line in the film -- the fact that the violin travels the world over centuries, seen and heard by different people with different languages and cultures, ultimately serves to prove the concept that music and beauty can communicate on a shared and universal level.

The Red Violin is a masterful, beautifully crafted film that showcases a range of diverse talent, from cinematography to score music to acting, and in doing so builds an unforgettable cinematic journey that explores the enduring power of music and art. Whether viewed as a historical epic, a romantic tragedy, or a modern thriller, it is a film that rewards careful viewing, contemplation, and repeated visits, leaving a lasting impression long after the final notes have faded away.

The Red Violin is a 1998 drama with a runtime of 2 hours and 11 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.6 and a MetaScore of 57.

The Red Violin
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    2 hr 11 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.6  (34,439)
  • Metascore