Perhaps the greatest epic that Canadian filmmaking has ever produced, RED VIOLIN is a masterpiece of contemporary film making. Shirking the traditional Hollywood formula of linear story telling, Girard’s direction and ’98 Festival ‘god’ Don McKeller’s script seamlessly tie five stories together through the connection of a Red Violin’s travel through history.
Girard, who’s last film ‘THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD’ brought him international fame, is a master of utilizing the language of cinema to reflect upon the beauty of music. Music inhabits both works, yet in RED VIOLIN it is much more then background or performance of a single artist. Continuing what may be a Canadian trend in using non-traditional elements narratively (ie., sex in Cronenberg’s CRASH), Girard uses the music to tell stories, to excite, arouse, argue, attack, even to make love with. As each hand touches the Violin through time, differing songs and stories emerge, the instrument’s Lazarus heart beating differently for each performer, resurrected again and again through time.
Reflecting upon ideas such as love and immortality are not new to cinema. However, by utilizing the device of the violin, Girard is able to do something quite exceptional with narrative time. The episodic structure does, however, inevitably ask one to evaluate each part individually. There are, indeed, weaker elements – while Samuel L. Jackson’s performance is quite good, I felt that the writing in the contemporary scenes was weaker then some of the other ones. The ending is somewhat cryptic, and there are some questions as to issues of security that the film brushes over.
Nonetheless, the film is absolutely beautiful to watch, with wonderful camera movement and composition. Held up as one of the most popular films at the festival thus far (except, of course, for a few of the ‘trade’ publications who are concerned about its financial, rather then aesthetic, worth) the RED VIOLIN is a perfect festival film – music, drama, love, comedy, luscious set pieces, and many languages and locales all serve to encapsulate contemporary world cinema into one film.