An acting award at Cannes, film festival honors worldwide and bouquets from the likes of Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") have strewn rose petals in the path of "The Violin," a picture better imagined dragging its way along a dirt road in some neglected corner of Mexico.
A rebel's-eye view of a peasant revolution, Francisco Vargas's poetic thriller unrolls in crisp black-and-white, simple gestures and a fatalist's view of political evolution: The opening scene, of soldiers torturing insurrectionist villagers, is without context, but the inference you draw is that it could be happening anytime, anywhere along the scorched road of Central and South American history.
After the opening scene concludes, we cut to the aging Plutarco (Don ¿ngel Tavira) and as a result immediately see him in the role of symbolic Mexican peasant and, perhaps, revolutionary icon. With son Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) and grandson Lucio (Mario Garibaldi), he travels the roads playing music, Lucio collecting money and Genaro passing notes and amassing arms for the guerrilla army training in the forests of our unspecified rural region.
When soldiers raid their village, seizing Genaro's wife, among others, the rest of the villagers flee. Left behind is a cache of desperately needed ammunition. While the various rebel battalions decide how to launch an offensive against the government's troops, Plutarco executes a stratagem based on cunning, patience and music.
"The Violin" is obviously not your typical political suspense film. It revels in the rural glories of Mexico, the crags in the landscape and in Plutarco's weathered face. There is the implied irony -- one common to any film that actually notices the nature surrounding a story -- that man's inhumanity is not just stupid but insignificant. When all that populates these mountains is dead, "The Violin" says, the wind will still be breathing through the trees.
-- John Anderson (Friday, Feb. 15, 2008)
Contains violence and vulgarity.