Mexico. 2006. 98 mins. Director Francisco VargasQuevedo
Director Francisco Vargas Quevedo's film was upgradedfrom last year's Cinefondation at Cannes to a slot in the 2006 Un CertainRegard, but his theme, now fleshed out to full feature length, was kickedupstairs as well.
The short version of The Violin contained most of the long film's second half, andalready indicated the spirit of the entire piece.
A metaphor rooted in a Latin American reality whichsadly seems to be true at all times somewhere on the continent, this black andwhite portrait of harsh military repression quelling a popular rebellion whosespirit will live as long as injustice will still prevail, does not speak aboutone specific event.
It could easily refer to the Chiapas rebellion inMexico or perhaps Nicaragua.
Shot almost like a documentary in remote mountainouslocations, with a remarkably expressive non-actor in the lead, it is just whatfestivals like to show and national film weeks insist on programming.
It is less certain however, whether there is life inthis modest effort, beyond that point.
An old musician, Plutarco (Tavira), his son Genaro(Taracena) and grandson (Mario Garibaldi) pretend to move from place to place,play their music on the street and collect money from the passers by, when intruth, Genaro is collecting weapons and ammunition for the peasant guerrillasin the mountains.
When the army descends on their village, looking forrebels and sympathisers, Genaro runs to warn his freedom fighter friends, whileold Plutarco chooses to brave the soldiers.
Tiding a donkey with his violin strung on his back, Genaropretends to go home to work his field, when in reality he wants to retrieve theammunitions the insurgents had buried on his land.
The captain in charge (Gama), charmed by the simplefolk tunes Plutarco plays on his violin, allows him free passage, and for amoment it is as if the barriers between the two are removed, but it is only anillusion that has no place in real life.
Essentially a lyrical folk-inspired picture, itscharacters divided between simple, faithful, down-trodden poor peasants on theone side and brutal, sadistic villains in uniform on the other side, Vargas'debut efficiently creates a tense atmosphere with a minimum of means.
It is enhanced by the first class cinematography ofMartin Boege Pare, showing a keen eye both for spectacular landscape and dark,rundown bodegas.
The story, as much as there is of it, is succinctlyand economically conveyed, with almost no dialogue needed to elaborate it.
Acting is generally proficient and exceptionally soin the case of Don Angel Tavira, a musician who is not a professional actor,but whose striking screen presence, his naturally timed delayed reactions andhis confident restraint, are a pleasure to watch.
Still, this is far from a perfect picture. Like somany other films of this kind, Vargas feels obliged to start with a standardsequence of torture, rape and arson, as if every time the identity of thevillains is to be established anew.
It is only as the film goes on that it gains incomplexity and it actually starts scoring in the last third, once the relationbetween Plutarco and the captain is ongoing.
Camera Carnal Films
Francisco Vargas Quevedo
Francisco Vargas Quevedo
Martin Boege Pare
Francisco Vargas Quevedo, Ricardo Garfias
Cuauhtemoc Tavira, Armando Rosas
Don Angel Tavira, DagobertoGama, Fermin Martinez, Gerardo Taracena, Mario Garibaldi