Friday, February 15, 2008

The Violin (review): "simple" black-and-white film from Mexico about art, family and war

The Violin (“El Violin”), directed by Francisco Vargas Quevedo, distributed by FilmMovement, shot in 2005 in Rancho San Isidro, Mexico, is now having a platform release in art house theaters, such as Landmark E Street in Washington. The film is shot in a somewhat grainy black and white (it looks like some kind of super 16) with the slightest greenish tint, and has the visual effect that recalls the Japanese warrior or “morality play” films of the 50s like “Rashomon”. The credits note production facilities in San Sebastian, Spain were used.

The story concerns a rural musical family resisting the occupation of an invading force. The country and historical circumstances are unspecified, but would fit the early 1900s. The patriarch is Don Plutarco (Angel Tavira), who plays sweet folk melodies on his violin, unaccompanied, despite having only one hand. His son Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) also plays, while the grandson Lucio (Mario Garibaldi) panhandles the money. There is a conversation early where Don explains to the grandson that, after the “Fall” (Adam and Eve), the “Gods” of the “Ambitious people” let their people attack the “Good People” (somehow ruled by their own “Gods” – possibly patriarchs or family heads). Much of the movie becomes a meditation on moral values – the place of music in a society that must adapt to nature and to external threats, the importance of loyalty to family even in spite of one’s own gifts, and the fact that in war each side is firmly convinced it is morally right. The occupiers are particularly cruel in the opening scenes (where there is a rape) but settle down and one of the captors begins to appreciate the music. Don and his family must manipulate the violin, the case, and weapons cache (which he must hide and recover) to set up the final showdown, which is both logical and tragic.

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