Forgotten Films

The Red Violin (1998)

This was released in the uk at the same time as The Matrix and sank without trace and at the end of the year I rang Radio Five Live during one of its review discussion to sing its praises and no one in the studio had seen it and probably thought I was mad. Well shame on them. Samuel L Jackson leads an international cast in this stunningly crafted biography of a historic violin as it spans the globe and history, passing through numerous owners during important moments in their lives - so it enters China during the People's Revolution when such instruments and their music were being restricted. It is one of the few films to feature five different spoken languages.

One of the mistakes in similar portmanteau style films is that the mcguffin which is passed through the cast is largely ignored. In most works, the object, such as a bank note (20 Bucks) is simply a way of linking these miscellaneous stories together. In The Red Violin, the instrument is actually the main character and is never far from the centre of the frame or singing to us in the startling and sweet score by John Corigliano, played by Joshua Bell. When the central mystery of the origin of the violin is exposed, it's absolutely devastating.

Although the film has won numerous awards particularly in Canada, it really deserves a much wider international recognition, and a rerelease. You might find a rental copy somewhere; the deleted dvd is currently selling for forty-fifty pounds on Amazon, and on ebay a region two is selling for seventeen pounds. But I wouldn't sell my copy for the world.

Once seen, it's irreplaceable.

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