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Red Violin, The (1998, Carolo Cocchi, Christoph Koncz)

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The notion of culture proving deadly was expounded in Name Of The Rose , but in place of a poisonous monastic book comes a fatal violin capable of infecting owners with its misery.

In 17th Century Italy, master violin maker Bussotti (CARLO COCCHI) celebrates his wife’s pregnancy with a vow to fashion the perfect instrument. When the housekeeper predicts a long and sad journey she is vindicated when mother and child perish, with the finished violin coated in the dead woman’s blood.

A century later the violin arrives in Austria, where the child prodigy Kaspar (CHRISTOPH KONCZ) takes possession. At a royal audition he collapses and dies, and is buried with the violin, which is then stolen. In England the composer Frederick Pope (JASON FLEMYNG) buys the instrument and uses it to write his best work in tribute to his love for Victoria (GRETA SCACCHI). When she finds him with another woman she shoots the violin, causing his suicide. His manservant escorts the battered violin to Shanghai where it is a forbidden object of the Cultural Revolution, owned by Xiang Pei (SYLVIA CHANG). Years later it comes to the attention of a valuer (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) who suspects the instrument’s provenance. His investigations set in train the end of misery and the birth of a dream. Sold on the presence of Jackson, this is a demanding, rewarding saga of portable pain echoing Larkin’s lines that ‘what will survive of us is love’.

Conceived as an epic, Girard took the hardest route possible, opting to shoot in five languages after three years’ intensive research. His cast showed equal enthusiasm, with the players trained to mime perfectly (or on Flemyng’s case to have his hands tied back while his tutor played around him). A $9 million budget (‘and judicious use of air miles’, says the producer) enabled location photography in Austria, Italy, Canada, England and China.

production details
Canada – Italy – UK | 131 minutes | 1998

Director: François Girard
Script: Don McKellar, François Girard,

cast
Colm Feore as Auctioneer (Montréal)
Carlo Cecchi as Nicolo Bussotti (Cremona)
Irene Grazioli as Anna Bussotti (Cremona)
Anita Laurenzi as Cesca (Cremona)
Tommaso Puntelli as Apprentice (Cremona)
Samuele Amighetti as Boy (Cremona)
Jean-Luc Bideau as Georges Poussin (Vienna)
Aldo Brugnini as Assistant (Cremona)
Christoph Koncz as Kaspar Weiss (Vienna)
Clotilde Mollet as Antoinette Pussin (Vienna)
Florentín Groll as Anton von Spielmann (Vienna)
Johannes Silberschneider as Father Richter (Vienna)
Rainer Egger as Brother Christophe (Vienna)
Paul Koeker as Brother Gustav (Vienna)
Wolfgang Böck as Brother Michael (Vienna)
Josef Mairginter as Brother Franz (Vienna)
Johan Gotsch as Funeral Monk (Vienna)
Geza Hosszu-Legocky as Gypsy Violonist (Vienna)
David Alberman as Gypsy Violonist (Vienna)
Arthur Denberg as Prince Mansfeld (Vienna)
Andrzej Matuszewiski as Gypsy Violonist (Vienna)
Jason Flemyng as Frederick Pope (Oxford)
Greta Scacchi as Victoria Byrd (Oxford)
Eva Marie Bryer as Sara (Oxford)
Dimitri Andreas as Gypsy Father (Oxford)
David Gant as Conductor (Oxford)
Sai-Kit Yung as Manservant (Oxford) (as Stuart Ong)
Sylvia Chang as Xiang Pei (Shanghai)
Zifeng Liu as Chou Yuan (Shanghai) (as Zi Feng Liu)
Tao Hong as Comrade Chan Gong (Shanghai)
Xio Fei Han as Young Ming (Shanghai)
Zheng Wei Tan as Guard (Shanghai) (as Zeng Wei Tan)
Zhi Qing Zhou as Senior Policeman (Shanghai)
Zhi Qiao as Elderly Woman (Shanghai)
Kun Qi Cao as Deputy (Shanghai)
Rei Yang as Young Xian Pei (Shanghai)
Lidou as Pawnbroker (Shanghai)
Samuel L. Jackson as Charles Morritz (Montréal)
Monique Mercure as Mme. Leroux (Montréal)
Don McKellar as Evan Williams (Montréal)
Ireneusz Bogajewicz as Mr. Ruselsky (Montréal)
Julian Richings as Nicolas Olsberg (Montréal)
Russell Yuen as Older Ming (Montréal)
Sandra Oh as Madame Ming (Montréal)
Paula de Vasconcelos as Suzanne (Montréal)
Rémy Girard as Customs Agent (Montréal)
Marie-Josée Gauthier as Hotel Concierge (Montréal)
Dany Laferrière as Cabby (Montréal)
Dorothée Berryman as Secretary (Montréal)
David La Haye as Handler (Montréal)
Gregory Hlady as Coat Attendant (Montréal)
Herman Meckler as Registrar (Montréal)
Sheena Macdonald as Ruselsky’s Companion (Montréal)
Jody Shapiro as Autograph Seeker (Montréal)
James Bradford as Stagehand (Montréal)
Joshua Bell as Violinist (Oxford) (uncredited)
Sylvia Stewart as Security Guard (uncredited)
Wang Xiaoshuai as Junior Policeman (Shanghai)