Picks and Pans Review: The Red Violin

updated 06/21/1999 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/21/1999 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi

Am violin, will travel. That could easily be the motto of The Red Violin's titular instrument, whose nickname is derived from its distinctive, vermilion-hued varnish. This ambitious, sumptuous-looking drama follows the violin and its various owners across four centuries, showing how the link between art and life spans the globe while transcending the deaths, disastrous love affairs and political tumult that beset those who come near the red violin.

A sort of Pulp Violin with its multiple stories, large cast and fractured chronological structure, the movie opens as the violin goes on the block at a chic contemporary auction house in Montreal. The film then cuts between the bidding and flashbacks that begin with an Italian violin maker lovingly crafting the instrument in 1681 as a gift for his soon-to-be-born baby. Other owners over the years include a child prodigy in 18th-century Vienna, a libertine lord in Victorian England and a covert fan of classical music during China's Cultural Revolution. Finally, in Montreal, a violin expert (Jackson) comes to realize the instrument's true cost exceeds any price.

Red is intelligently crafted by director and cowriter François Girard, but one's interest wavers from one story to the next. (No rating)

Bottom Line: Mostly well-strung tales

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