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Somewhere in Latin America a family of musicians and modest farmers join a fearless guerilla movement attempting to overthrow the brutal and sadistic government. When the military seizes their village, they flee to the sierra hills, forced to leave behind their stock of ammunition. While the guerillas organize a counter-attack, old Plutarco plays up his appearance as a harmless violin player in order to get into the village and recover the ammunition hidden in his corn fields. His violin playing charms the army captain, who orders Plutarco to come back daily. With tension escalating sky-high, guns and music take on a near holy significance with hundreds of lives hanging in the balance.
May 24, 2006
By Justin Chang
The old saying that music can soothe the savage beast is both celebrated and challenged in "The Violin," the finely crafted writing-directing debut of Mexican filmmaker Francisco Vargas. Stark but absorbing drama follows an aging musician, beautifully played by Don Angel Tavira, who fiddles his way into the front lines of Mexico's peasant revolts during the 1970s.
Nonprofessional cast is uniformly strong, but the 81-year-old Tavira, in his acting debut (he was the subject of Vargas' 2004 docu "Tierra caliente ... se mueren los que la mueven"), inspires real affection with his enormously dignified, mildly dyspeptic characterization. His mouth perpetually downturned, his face as weathered and ruggedly expressive as the outdoor locales, Tavira's creation of a mischievously heroic figure disguised as a harmless-looking old man is the tale's chief satisfaction.
In a very real sense, Vargas seems to have tailored the picture specifically for Tavira, himself a lifelong violinist.
--Justin Chang/ Variety - Review
May 25, 2006
By Ray Bennett
Brutal military repression looks the same everywhere and Francisco Vargas' striking and poetic film "The Violin" offers a plaintive cry on behalf of the oppressed.
Shot in richly textured black-and-white and with an eye for classical framing, the film relates a simple tale of a small group of Mexican peasants thrown off their land for resisting the government's heavy boots.
Vargas' screenplay includes some memorable lines that speak to the struggle of the poor and the power of their oppressors. Tavira, a lifelong musician who lost his right hand in an accident when he was 13, brings gravitas and humor to the role of an ancient who knows the struggle is eternal.
--Ray Bennett/ The Hollywood Reporter - Review
"A stunning film that dazzles with its deceptive simplicity." - Belinda Acosta, Austin Chronicle
--Belinda Acosta/ Austin Chronicle - Review
“Francisco Vargas’s film is beautifully shot, and the cast is superb.” – SF Examiner
--San Francisco Examiner - Review
Finally, on the very crest of the much-discussed Mexican new wave, Francisco Vargas outplays all first-time peers with his magnificent The Violin, set in the 1970s. Violinist Don Plutarco (Don Angel Tavira) can only play by strapping his bow to his handless stump. As his guerrilla son fights a secret battle against the ruling military regime, Plutarco winds up serenading a sensitive (but still sinister) captain. Vargas shoots in luscious black-and-white, switching between handheld camera for tense moments and static shots during rest periods that still manage to be breathtaking. In one amazing sequence, Plutarco sits by a campfire and explains the origin of war to his grandson while Vargas slowly, slowly tracks over smoldering coals. But it's Tavira's gaping, withered face that gives the movie its mileage. He's 81, and it's his first acting job. How's that for a debut?
--Jeffrey M. Anderson/ San Francisco Bay Chronicle - Review
"The Violin," it's been reliably reported, has won 46 international awards,and it's not hard to see why. The debut dramatic feature by Mexican director Francisco Vargas is a quintessential film festival film, a potent work made with confidence and skill that effectively melds aesthetic and thematic concerns within an involving dramatic framework.
As written by Vargas, who won the Mexican Ariel for best screenplay as well as for best first feature, the story of "The Violin" has the simplicity of a fable, albeit one that is drawn to darkness more than light. Making this story effective is a performance of enormous gravity and presence by 80-something Tavira, a legendary traditional musician whom filmmaker Vargas made the subject of an earlier documentary feature. Vargas also has a background as a director of photography, and he has given "The Violin" a stunning look that highlights cinematographer Martin Boege's sparking black-and-white imagery.
But one thing that makes this film distinctive is that its visual beauty doesn't keep it from emphasizing the bleak reality of the impoverished lives of its characters. Poverty is written on the faces of many of its participants, and the squalid aspects of existence are not shied away from.
More than anything, however, "The Violin" emphasizes the timeless necessity and even inevitability of rebellion on the part of the disenfranchised. The poor may be overmatched, but, as one character says,"our destiny is to fight" because "the land is ours."
A message this political has rarely been delivered in so poetic a form.
--Kenneth Turan/ Los Angeles Times - Review
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Jeff in Seattle - Customer Review
Does music soothes the savage beast? I think "The Violin" attempts to answer that question. I think the film takes place during the Zapatista unrest in southern Mexico, but the film did not give that detail for the audience. The army has occupied an indigenous peasant village on the lookout for rebels. The rebels' arms cache is within the protagonist's (Plutarco) cornfield and they can't get to it. Plutarco uses his skills as a voilinist to gain access to his cornfield and smuggle the bullets out. I don't go any further, since doing so would give the story away. The story is simple and slow-paced, but sometimes that is how the story works. Another great selection from Film Movement. However, the film is not without its "head-scratchers". I'm not 100% sure why a soldier gave Plutarco a "taco for the road", not once, but twice. Thanks, Film Movement, for the special thanks in the January eNewsletter. Unfortunately, I have not saved my previous reviews on Film Movement titles. I could occasionally send some new reviews on previous titles instead.
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