Strung Out

The Violin is that rare work of political art that doesn't skimp on the art. Shot in timeless black-and-white, Francisco Vargas's debut burnishes its neorealist setting with elegant, eloquent imagery and a piquant soundtrack. The film unfolds in the mountains of Mexico, where the army is waging a ruthless war on guerillas and civilians alike. The opening interrogation/torture/rape scene puts us firmly on the side of the rebels, but The Violin (which had its local premiere at the S.F. International Film Festival last spring) is much, much more than a piece of manipulative agitprop. Its iconic central figure, an aged campesino with a maimed hand who nonetheless plays violin beautifully, embodies all the vanishing virtues: dignity, culture, and perseverance. A fable about the fight between the have-nots and the power structure -- or, to put it more nakedly, civilization and brutality -- The Violin evokes Bicycle Thieves and The Battle of Algiers, as well as the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Closer to home, the dirt on the faces of Vargas' characters mirrors the grime in Dorothea Lange's photographs of Dust Bowl families, while Don Plutarco's violin protests the injustice of it all with a resoluteness Woody Guthrie would have admired. This great film single-handedly revives the reputation of political art.
Jan. 11-17, 2008

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