The Red Violin, the latest from 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould director François Girard, is so relentlessly pretty, you can almost overlook the fact that it's as thin as the skin of a soap bubble. Like a Tales Of Manhattan for hardcore NPR listeners, The Red Violin follows a 17th-century Italian violin, the best and final work of a perfection-minded craftsman (Carlo Cecchi), from its troubled creation to its place as the hottest item on a Montreal auction block. Over the centuries, it falls into various hands—an unhealthy pre-teen prodigy (real-life German wunderkind Christoph Koncz), a debauched, iconoclastic Victorian musician (Jason Flemyng), and a Maoist party higher-up (Sylvia Chang) who is on the verge of being undone by her love of counter-revolutionary Western music—before falling, temporarily at least, into the hands of expert historian Samuel L. Jackson. With its lush look, solid international cast, and beautiful music by John Corigliano (with stirring solo work by Joshua Bell), there's a lot to admire about The Red Violin, but little to love: The film's stories simply aren't that compelling, and seem strung together for no purpose other than to illustrate that 300-year-old violins can have a lot of adventures. Paired with Greta Scacchi (as a novelist/muse who stirs inspiration while appealing to his baser instincts), Flemyng at least brings energy to the movie, but his efforts verge on melodrama to the point of laughability. Worse still, The Red Violin's concluding segment, in which Jackson investigates the instrument's origins, delivers all the excitement of conducting such research yourself. As pleasant stimulation for the eye and ear, it's two hours of sumptuousness, but anyone looking for more won't find it here.
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