In an unnamed Latin-American country, a loosely organized peasant rebellion struggles against an oppressive government army. The Mexican film “El Violin” doesn’t really get more specific than that in terms of where or when the story takes place. When government forces invade a rebel village, they force the villagers to leave behind a secret ammo stash. While soldiers camp out in the captured village, Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) and his desperate rebels try to figure out a way to get to their munitions. Genaro’s elderly father, a one-handed violinist and farmer, takes it upon himself to solve the problem.
If I thought the violin might be a fun, lighthearted story, I was completely wrong. The movie opens with a brutal scene of torture, and while the mood occasionally lightens a bit, it generally remains grim. The film never makes it clear what the rebels are fighting against; I guess “oppression” in general. It doesn’t really matter. The theme is how the spirit of freedom and rebellion lives on, passed from generation to generation. There is also an exploration of how people might be different given different circumstances. The army captain is a brutal man of war, but he discovers a belated interest in music under the tutelage of the old violinist.
I watched “El Violin” largely as part of my Spanish-language study. On its merits as a film, I would say it is a bit too naturalistic for me. It is a well-told story, however, with excellent performances and some beautiful footage of the Mexican countryside. For a viewer who won’t mind the pervasive grimness of the tale, it is worth checking out.
2.5 stars out of 5