YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


'The Violin' sounds political yet poetic notes

January 04, 2008|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

"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.

Family patriarch Don Plutarco (Angel Tavira) is not only a farmer, he and his son Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) and his grandson Lucio (Mario Garibaldi) work in a nearby city as itinerant street musicians. Plutarco plays a graceful folk violin even though he lacks a right hand and must use a makeshift arrangement to hold the bow.

More than that, however, Plutarco and his family are involved in a ragtag guerrilla insurrection against the military dictatorship that rules the unnamed country they live in.

"The Violin" nervily chooses to open with an uncharacteristically violent scene of torture and rape to let us know at once the horrors that have caused these people to take up arms.

The film's main action begins when a surprise government raid takes over Plutarco's village. The residents are forced to evacuate so quickly they leave behind a critical cache of ammunition.

While the rebels think about counterattacking, Don Plutarco, who believes "you have to learn to wait, every thing in its time," begins to play a slow and dangerous game that he hopes will accomplish the same ends.

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.


"The Violin." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 281-8223.

Los Angeles Times Articles