The Red Violin (Le Violon Rouge) is a 1998 Canadian film, directed by Francois Girard and written by him and actor-director Don McKellar. It tells us the story of a mysterious red-coloured violin, its various owners and spans three centuries and five countries. After premiering at the Venice Film Festival, the film received positive reviews and grossed $10 million in the U.S. box office. It received numerous honours, including the Academy Award for Best Original Score and eight Genie Awards in Canada, including Best Motion Picture.
The violin was crafted in 1681, by a legendary violin maker, Nicolo Bussotti, in Cremona, Italy, for his unborn son. But his wife, Anna dies in childbirth after hearing a series of prophecies from a village crone who reads the tarot deck. The cards provide a structure for flash-forwards to the future adventurous journey of the violin, and at the same time there is a flashback structure, as bidders arrive at the auction house in Montreal and we learn why they desire the instrument.
After the opening episode about Bussotti and his wife, the violin drifts into the hands of an order of monks, and we rejoin it 100 years later at their orphanage. They love and adore a young prodigy Kasper, who plays the Violin like an angel. They took the boy to an expert musician, Poussin, who gave him a patient hearing and adopts him on the spot, despite the doubts of his wife. Gradually the old couple grows to love the boy–who sleeps with his violin. Poussin puts Weiss through a strict, tough and rigorous practice schedule, but that takes its toll on Weiss’ heart defect. On the day of an important recital, as he starts playing, his heart gives out from the stress and he collapses, dead.
As time rolls on, the Violin comes into the possession of gypsies and travels from Poland to England. There, in the 19th century, a rich maestro named Frederick Pope comes across the gypsy procession setting up camp on his estate, as a gypsy woman plays the violin. He offers his hospitality in exchange for the violin. Frederick finds great praise in his public concerts with the violin, as well as his compositions, with his lover Victoria Byrd.
Soon, Victoria, a writer, goes to Russia to research about her ensuing novel. While Victoria is absent, Frederick loses his inspiration to compose and degenerates. When Victoria does not receive his letters for a full week, she resolves to return immediately. But when she arrives, she finds him in the arms of a new muse, the violinist gypsy woman. Mad with rage and hatred, Victoria shoots the violin, grazing its neck and detaching its strings and the tailpiece, before storming out. After some days, Frederick writes to Victoria to inform that he will commit suicide and that he is leaving his entire estate to her.
The violin changes hand again, as Frederick’s Chinese servant, returns to Shanghai with it and sells it to an antique dealer, who repairs the damage and sells it to a young woman with her daughter during the 1930s. But during the Cultural Revolution, it stands as a symbol of bourgeois decadence. However, ignoring a possible arrest, a brave political officer defends it, pointing out that Beethoven and Prokofiev were revolutionaries, but is saved only when a music lover risks her life. Eventually, the new capitalist Chinese government sends it off to Montreal for appraisal and sale at auction.
There, in the auction house in Montreal, it attracts the attention of an expert evaluator, Moritz. He believes that, it may be the legendary last violin of Nicolò Bussotti. Immediately he sends samples of the varnish of the violin to a lab at the University of Montreal and at the same time, purchases a copy of the Red Violin from a private collection in London, the closest copy of the original available.
The results of the varnish tests shocked Morritz, as he comes to know that the varnish of the violin contains human blood. He becomes sure that Bussotti had carried his wife’s body to his shop after her death and slit her wrist to collect blood for making the red paint. Before his flight, back to his hometown, Morritz stops by the auction house, with the London copy in hand and switches the Red Violin for the London copy, which is sold for $2.4 million. Moritz calls his wife at home in New York City and asks to speak to his daughter, telling her that he has a special gift for her upon his return.
The Red Violin is a saga of time and soul. Despite death and despair, the film is truly positive. In The Red Violin, Francois Girard has produced a wonderful film with its exotic original score. There is another marvel in the film. A careful look at the actor in the role of the little boy playing his violin before the expert musician Poussin, will find that, his fingering and movements with the instrument is meticulously and surprisingly accurate. In fact, the boy himself played the instrument in the film, without any special effect. The role of the little boy was played by Christoph Koncz and in real life, he grew up to be a great violinist of Austria.