James Hillman has written, "The soul is born in beauty and feeds on beauty, requires beauty for its life." Canadian director Francois Girard's follow-up to his stirring Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould is a spiritually rich and musically sublime drama about the soulful dimensions of beauty. It also presents some of the ways in which beauty has been perverted by people's hubris and their treating it as a commodity.
In the seventeenth century, Italian Nicolo Bussotti (Carlo Cecchi) creates a near-perfect violin for his unborn child. A housekeeper reads Tarot cards to his pregnant wife predicting a long journey characterized by moments of great happiness and disaster. The woman dies in childbirth, and the fortuneteller's predictions begin to spin out in the life of the violin.
A century later, the unusually colored instrument becomes the property of an Austrian monastery. A child prodigy (Christoph Koncz) plays it magnificently but collapses and dies while performing for a prince. The red violin is buried with the boy but is stolen by gypsies.
In 1893 in England, Frederick Pope (Jason Flemyng), a composer, is inspired by both the instrument's tones and his troubled relationship with novelist Victoria Byrd (Greta Scacchi). Again tragedy ensues, and a Chinese servant takes the red violin to Shanghai where it is pawned.
Years later, the violin surfaces again in the home of Xiang Pei (Sylvia Chang) during Mao's Cultural Revolution. Knowing that her life could be put in jeopardy simply for possessing the violin, she gives it to her teacher. Upon his death, the instrument along with many others is taken to Montreal for auction. New York expert Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson) appraises it as "the perfect marriage of science and beauty." Others at the auction want to possess it merely for its great value as an investment and as a trophy.
The Red Violin presents a vivid and poignant meditation about our relationship to beauty — our shadow need to possess and control it, our soul's need to be nurtured by its radiance. The music on the soundtrack by composer John Corigliano is magnificent — especially the violin selections played by virtuoso Joshua Bell.