In the same way that a sour note can spoil an otherwise unblemished musical number, a bad scene can mar an otherwise fine film. And the scene that nearly destroys "The Red Violin" is a real clinker.
To give you an idea of how awful and how out of place the sequence in question is, it suddenly transforms what is a film suitable for all ages into a sex-obsessed, R-rated one. Or in other words, in a matter of minutes "The Red Violin" suddenly turns into "The Red Shoe Diaries."
However, that's not to say that this episodic musical drama isn't any good it certainly has its share of inspired moments, and it almost recovers from its cinematic stumble.
But it certainly isn't as good as the previous collaboration between its director (Francois Girard) and screenwriter (Don McKellar), the dazzling "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould." Nor, for that matter, does it rank up there with such excellent, musically inspired dramas like "Amadeus," and "Hilary and Jackie" and "Shine."
The premise is similarly ambitious, though, as it follows the different owners of the title object, a supposedly cursed but sonically perfect musical instrument that led to a family tragedy for its Italian creator.
Over the years. the violin passes from his hands to a 6-year-old Austrian musical prodigy (Christoph Koncz), to nomadic gypsies, to a flamboyant British violinist (Jason Flemyng), to a Chinese woman (Sylvia Chang), with almost equally tragic results each time.
Eventually, it winds up at a Montreal auction house, where expert Charles Moritz (Samuel L. Jackson) becomes consumed with the instrument, as he tries to discover whether it is indeed the 17th-century musical treasure.
Admittedly, Girard and McKellar (who also has a brief role) wisely try to vary the tone of each story line, changing the focus of from pseudo-mystical fantasy to would-be passionate romance to political drama to mystery. But as mentioned, not all of it works.
The performances are similarly uneven. While Jackson and Chang, especially, are very good, Flemyng ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") is laughably bad, and his on-screen romance with Greta Scacchi is unconvincing. (And yes, their's is by far the worst segment of the bunch.)
"The Red Violin" is rated R for a pair of fairly graphic, simulated sex scenes, male and female nudity, scattered profanities, violent gunplay and a brief tussle, simulated drug use (opium) and use of some crude slang terms.