June 19, 2007
The Violin, 2005
Francisco Vargas's admirable first feature film, The Violin deceptively starts on a seemingly tangential, wrong note by opening to an underlit, vérité-styled shot of what has become an all too familiar (and arguably gratuitous) image of military atrocities in the face of guerrilla warfare - the arbitrary round-up and brutalization of civilians in an attempt to extract information, the torture of prisoners, the raping of women. But the obscured, bleak, rough hewn images then subsequently - and unexpectedly - give way to the sunlit, distilled beauty of the rural landscape as an elderly farmer and street musician, Don Plutarco (Ángel Tavira), his son Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) and grandson Lucio (Mario Garibaldi) prepare for their trip to town, hitchhiking for rides in the backs of passing trucks, before making their way to the town square, stopping in the doorways of cafeterias and along main streets to play music and solicit charity. An encounter between Genaro and a cheese peddler at lunch time, and subsequently, between Genaro and an attractive, young hitchhiker, reinforces the atmosphere of implicit secrecy and covert resistance that pervades the film (a bracing reality that is established in the film's confrontational opening sequence) - the exchange of objects and information performed tacitly through casual gestures and passing glances. Returning home to the sight of women, children, and the elderly in flight after the military descended on the village in order to root out insurgents, Genaro attempts to gain access to the occupied village in order to retrieve a supply of ammunition that has been stashed away within their property to no avail, chased away by soldiers who spot his surveillance. But Don Plutarco has another idea for gaining access into the farm. Trading a year's worth of crops for a burro and carrying only his violin, Don Plutarco ingratiates himself into the company of the stern, yet genial captain (Dagoberto Gama) by playing his violin. However, as the insurgency rages on, can the idealistic notion of music as a uniting medium truly coexist with the cruelty of war? Shot in stark, elegantly composed black and white images, The Violin tonally evokes Henri-Georges Cluozot's The Wages of Fear in its creation of tension through the performance of the mundane. In hindsight, it is this atmosphere of disarming nothingness that ultimately reconciles the film's oddly incongruous opening sequence - a sobering reminder that the capacity for inhumanity and instinctual survival resides in everyone: silent, ever-present, unabated, and inextinguishable.