The film traces the expansive history of a mysterious red violin over four centuries and five countries, starting in Cremona Italy in 1681 and ending in a Canadian auction house in 1997.
The story begins with the master violin maker in Cremona Italy in 1681. His wife is pregnant with their first child, and he is making this life's masterpiece with the belief that his son will one day play it. His wife is concerned for her health and that of the baby because of her age, and seeks the wisdom of a tarot card reader, who predicts her fantastical future through five cards that we return to throughout the movie. (Skipping over dramatic events that are a secret!) Ultimately the violin is donated to an orphanage in Austria.
In 1793, a young, sickly boy who is living in the orphanage picks up the red violin and shows himself to be a brilliant prodigy. He is sponsored by an renowned instructor and tutored to become the greatest violinist the world has ever seen. (More secrets.) The violin ends up stolen by gypsies and is acquired by a seductive, eccentric Lothario in Oxford in the late 1890's.
The Lothario, named Frederick Pope, is a genius violinist who draws his inspiration from sexual romps with women. Inevitably, this heightened passion and hedonism ends up going astray, the violin takes a bullet, and is whisked away by Pope's Chinese servant, taken to Shanghai and sold to an antiques dealer.
The violin resurfaces in late 1930's, which it is purchased by a mother for her daughter. We catch up with the daughter, now grown, in the late 1960's, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. All items deemed foreign and unsuitable to the Communist regime are being burned, including musical instruments. The woman loves her classical music and her childhood violin, and at risk to her life, sneaks it to her instructors home, where it isn't discovered until he dies in the current day. The instructor has saved not only the red violin, but many others as well, and is sent to Montreal to auction.
Which is where everything converges. Many people who are connected with the violin are present (monks from the Italian orphanage, a representative from the Pope Foundation, the Chinese woman's son, etc.) and all desperately want the violin. But none more than Mr. Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson), an expert appraiser of collectible violins. He becomes obsessed with the history of this instrument, and attempts to determine the source of the mysterious red varnish and positively confirm that this is indeed THE violin people have been searching for for decades. The question is...who will end up with this magnificent item and will be willing to pay the $1.2 million price tag?
I usually don't go into such much detail about a movie plot, but I really wanted you to see the scope and epic quality of what was going on here. So many cultures, countries, personalities, and passion associated with this one violin. In fact (and you would almost never hear me say this) but the story was almost too big, too sweeping for a two hour movie. As a result, I was left wanting more from each "episode" and each character, but ultimately the gorgeous music, the costumes, the locations...it all swept me away and I found myself loving it anyway.
The mystery that Samuel L. Jackson is trying to figure out? Not all that hard to figure out from the viewer's perspective. Hubby and I figured it out from the start. Still. The movie is enchanting, epic, romantic, and gorgeous. The movie did win an Oscar for the Best Original Score, rightfully in my opinion. I could have listened to the music for hours.
4.5 out of 5 stars