The Red Violin is a historical fiction film following the people that have played an elusive, expertly crafted red violin. The film starts with the luthier in Italy, a fastidious master who crafts a perfect instrument for his unborn son. Then, following the pattern laid down by five Tarot cards, the violin's journey takes it through Europe, Asia, and finally the New World, from one owner to another. Four centuries pass as it haunts its many owners with beautiful music and constant misfortune. The climax of the film is an auction house in Montreal, where the violin, now recognized as a priceless treasure, is up for the highest bidder.The Red Violin was produced by companies from Italy, Canada and the United Kingdom. It was released by Lionsgate in 1998. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Score (composed by John Corigliano), and received/was nominated for many other awards for filmmaking and music, including a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes.
Artifact of Attraction: The Red Violin. Those who own it tend to love it passionately, and be inspired by it like nothing else. Victoria seems to think it has an evil will of its own. Granted, this becomes increasingly Justified as the years go on, and the violin becomes recognizably more and more valuable by its age.
Auction: The setup for the modern-day portion of the story, held in Montreal and populated mostly by the very rich.
The Bad Guy Wins: All the auction candidates who want to buy the violin for sentimental or respectful reasons are outbid, and it ends up going to the pompous Mr. Ruselky, who only wants it to boast about it. Or... does it?
Book Ends: The first music we hear in the film, "Anna's Theme," is a woman humming a lullaby, which blends into the sound of a perfectly matched violin. Listen until the end of the credits, and the violin's music fades away, to be replaced once more by Anna's sad voice.
The film both opens and closes in Cremona, Italy, in the seventeenth century.
Chekov's Gun: To verify the violin's authenticity, Mme. Leroux (in Montreal) orders a replica of the violin that was made when it came into Frederick Pope's hand (Pope being the violin's most famous owner), in order to compare them. They're almost indistinguishable. Morritz later swaps out the real violin for the replica.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: "Pope's Concert." In case the music itself wasn't zesty enough, Pope's performance is accented by little grunts, moans, sighs... and the audience members all begin to look uncomfortable... or, in the case of one female attendee, pleasantly uncomfortable...
Driven to Suicide: Fredrick Pope, after Victoria leaves him and shoots at his violin.
Foreshadowing: In the very first scene Busotti shows that he would rather destroy a violin of his workshop than produce an instrument that's only meant to be a collector's piece, never played or loved. It turns out that Morritz is of the same mind.
When Ming, at the auction, first sees the red violin, he says "That's not the one I remember." His wife assures him that he's mistaken.
Grail in the Garbage: Happens to the red violin quite frequently. One might consider giving a violin of such quality away to a monastery to train young monks to be "throwing it out," if not, then certainly burying it in a grave will do. Frederick Pope thought so when he found Romani on his lands playing it. The violin later gathers dust in a dinky English goods shop in Shanghai for several decades.
Truth in Television for the real-life "red violin" that very loosely inspired the story — it was stolen, and played by a busker who covered it with shoe polish to disguise the red stripe on the varnish.
The Hedonist: Fredrick Pope. His house is furnished with the most luxurious trappings, his musical and sexual appetites intersect in peculiar ways (to say the least), and as time goes on, he develops an addiction to opium.
How We Got Here: About four-fifths of the movie could be considered a prolonged version of this.
Hypocritical Humor: Mr. Ruselky, a violin expert testing out the most promising finds, plays the red violin itself, and declares that it's "nothing special." The day that the news story breaks that the violin is actually the red violin, he at once snaps that he knew it at once, Morritz lied to him, and that violin should be his!
Ill Girl: Kasper Weiss, as a young boy version of this trope with a "weak heart".
In Medias Res: The auction is shown, and then the pieces for why it is important for several participants in the room are revealed throughout the movie.
Meaningless Villain Victory: Mr. Ruselky ends up winning the red violin at auction — but what he doesn't know is, that violin he won is a fake. And even if he figures it out, his pride will never let him admit he was so duped.
Mock Guffin: The red violin that we first see in the film, the one up for auction that attracts all of the drama, is a high-quality fake. Morritz walked out with the original five minutes ago. See Meaningless Villain Victory.
The Muse: Victoria to Fredrick, as their passionate affair fuels his music, and it's implied Frederick also helps Victoria compose her novels.
Muse Abuse: Frequently Played With throughout the movie, in different forms for different storylines.
Kaspar averts the trope, a polite and willing little boy who just wants to play music. M. Poussin, his mentor and patron, is certain that Kaspar's talent is worth every sous of debt that he incurs.
Frederick and Victoria are in a dangerously co-dependent relationship where they are each other's Muse and inspiration. This manifests in Frederick in an inability to function without Victoria, and Victoria shows extreme jealousy.
Xiang's love for her mother's gift is so great that she puts her own life in danger to keep it.
Morritz is not (primarily) an artist, but he starts pouring time, interest, and research into the Violin far beyond what an academic should do, risking estrangement from his family.
Not So Different: Morritz and Busotti, although they never meet and are not antagonistic to each other, are shown as being very alike: passionate about music and violins, fastidious, prone to be jerks to the people who work for them, and both have troubled home lives (Busotti worried about his wife having a child late in life; Morritz's work taking him far away from his family, which strains them).
One-Woman Wail: Anna's humming mixed in perfectly with the violin music.
Powered By A Forsaken Child... or Mother: The Red Violin. From when Cesca begins to read Anna's cards, the path she lays out strongly resembles the violin's life. But it's unclear whether the future she reads is for Anna or her unborn son — and then, if the violin should be seen as carrying Anna's spirit or his.
Pet the Dog: Frederick Pope may be an arrogant jerk to his conductor and the rest of his orchestra, but he lets the Romani camp stay on his land as long as they like, and even gives them free tickets to his performances, all in exchange for one violin of theirs.
Monsieur Poussin in Vienna eagerly embraces the ideals of science, progress, and reason. The audition piece he sets for Kaspar is not emotional or passionate: it is one complicated chord played faster and faster, to prove the boy's technical skill. As a result, Poussin considers Kaspar's love for his violin to be a foolish superstition, and doesn't realize how much it means to the boy. Although, as his affection for Kaspar grows, he does understand, and lets the boy carry on sleeping with the violin.
Frederick Pope of Oxford, some century and a half later, is a Byronic musical genius. His performances feature music composed on the spot in a fit of sexual inspiration, and hang the rest of the orchestra for prudes. The downside is that when his muse departs, he can barely function, let alone compose and finds inspiration with a Romani girl.
Smoking Hot Sex: Victoria indulges, after a nice "inspiration" session with Frederick.
Tarot Motifs: A tarot reading at the start of the movie foretells the rest of the plot of the movie. Accompanied, of course, by …
Tarot Troubles: Anna's reading is not filled with good omens. The Moon, the Hanged Man, the Devil, and Justice all make appearances. Subverted, with the last card — Death — which actually signifies a new beginning and change for the better.
Technician Versus Performer: As mentioned above, M. Poussin is a bona fide Technician, and trains Kaspar this way, saying that the metronome is the master of music, while Frederick Pope is a passionate Performer who seems immune to criticism, direction, or even schedules. Notably, Busotti, the violin's maker, falls somewhere in between: he is fastidious and precise in his craftsmanship, but his love and passion for music and his wife drives him.
The Power of Blood: of the Blood Is Symbolic variety. Busotti finishes the violin after his wife's death by making a varnish of her blood and painting it on with her hair. The violin carries on Anna's spirit (or, alternately, her child's). Ever after, the violin's owners constantly play a variant on Anna's Theme.
Title Drop: All over the place, but especially in and around the auction, when the violin has achieved worldwide fame.
Toplessness from the Back: On the film poster and soundtrack cover, a curved woman's back (probably Anna) is shown with the f holes superimposed on her.
Whole Episode Flashback: The story of the auction is, although shown several times from different PO Vs, very little of the movie compared to the long flashbacks showing How We Got Here. Or, for another interpretation — because the film's first and last shots are in Cremona, Italy, it's possible that the entire film is a Whole Episode Flash-forward.
Violin Scam: Accomplished by Morritz at the end of the film, switching a high-quality copy of Pope's violin for the real article, so that he can keep his once-in-a-lifetime relic, and ensure it's passed to someone who will truly treasure it.