The Red Violin - rated - TEPID

Ravishing music but no soul

It has taken me a long time to catch up with this movie, which won the 1999 Academy Award for best foreign film. I ,managed to see it on the big screen at my local cinema which seems to have changed hands and is now considerately playing films from the last few years, many of which I didn't manage to see on first release. Oh bliss! Now I can catch up on a few that got away from me.

Even though I hadn't seen The Red Violin at the time, it was no surprise to me that it won the Academy Award. At the time of the broadcast I announced that it would win "because it is about classical music and films about classical music always win." I was right.

But I'm afraid I was pretty disappointed with The Red Violin. It was, on the whole, as predictable as its award was. I say "on the whole" because it had a couple of extraordinary items in it which were utterly unpredictable. One: the whole extraordinarily silly sequence with Jason Flemyng and Greta Scacchi as a kind of English version of Franz Liszt and George Sand! The sex scenes were just ludicrous, and completely at odds with the rest of the film. The other was the casting of Samuel L Jackson as Charles Morritz, the Armani-clad violin expert. For me, it just didn't work.

I just described the nineteenth century Oxford sequence as being "and completely at odds with the rest of the film". That's not quite accurate, because each sequence of the film seemed to me to be at odds with the rest of the film. It is an episodic film - which is nothing to fear in the hands of director François Girard and writer Don McKellar (who collaborated on Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould (1994)). I loved that film, and has high hopes for this one. But nothing about the episodes gels. They start out well, with the initial creation scenes in Cremona beautiful to look at, and almost hypnotic in tone. The next sequence, in the German monastery, telling the story of musician Poussin (Jean-Luc Bideau) and child prodigy Kaspar Weiss (Christoph Koncz), was charming and compelling at the same time. but from then on, I'm afraid it was downhill all the way.

But the music is mostly delicious (if sometimes repetitious). The original score was composed by contemporary composer, John Corigliano, and played by American solo violinist Joshua Bell (who appears uncredited as a violinist in the concert-hall scenes and was also a body-double for Jason Flemyng's violin-playing scenes ), with the London Philharmonia Orchestra, under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen. It is the primarily the music which keeps the emotional tone going throughout the rocky road of the violin's story.