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Luck, magic helped make 'The Violin'

December 31, 2007|Susan King

The starkly poetic Mexican drama "The Violin," which opens Friday at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles, was born out of a "whole-life" process, according to writer-director Francisco Vargas.

"It was nurtured by lucky encounters with magical people, like my two great-grandmothers," Vargas says via translated e-mail. "One who died at age 115 and inspired the image of the old storyteller [in the movie] and the other one, a tough, hardened woman who rode horses, smoked cigars and drank alcohol."

"The Violin," which has amassed 46 international awards, revolves around elderly violinist Don Plutarco (Angel Tavira), who lives a double life with his son and grandson. Not only are they musicians and poor farmers, they are also supporters of a peasant guerrilla movement's efforts to fight the oppressive government. When the military seizes their village, they are forced to flee to the hills, leaving their ammunition behind.

Plutarco enters into a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the military by playing up his image as a mild-mannered musician in order to return to the village and retrieve the weapons.

Tavira, who was 81 when he made the film, received the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Though Vargas had previously featured him in one of his documentaries, "The Violin" marked his acting debut.

"Because of the characteristics of this movie -- the shoot had to be only four weeks, in the mountains, with very cold temperatures, with limited material -- I decided it would be good to have an actor as the protagonist, so I asked the casting director to find [one]," the filmmaker said. "But after six months of not finding him, she came back to me and suggested looking among the old musicians that I already knew."

Vargas said he immediately thought of Tavira, whom he described as a "strong and exceptional" human being.

"The greatest surprise for everyone was that he ended up being a great actor, since he is a born artist."

-- Susan King

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