Monday 22 June 2015

DVD Review: The Devil’s Violinist

Year: 2013 (UK DVD release: 2015)
Director: Bernard Rose
Screenplay: Bernard Rose
Starring: David Garrett, Jared Harris

Synopsis is here:

Niccolò Paganini was one of the most celebrated violin virtuosos of his time and considered as one of the pillars of modern violin technique. A man of such stature, has of course been dramatized in cinema before, with his most famous being Klaus Kinski’s Paganini (1989). The ferocious Kinski, who played Paganini, seemed like a perfect fit for a womanising violinist who was allegedly in cahoots with the devil. It must be said however that an update by Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved), is an attractive prospect.

Rose; whose work has shown interest in self-destructive egos before (Ivans XTC), seems like a good fit for the material on the surface. The addition of German violinist David Garrett as Paganini, ensures handsome looks as well as playing. Much more of a turn on than the bug eyed mania of Kinski.

The problem is that The Devil’s Violinist never strikes the same intensity that someone like Kinski could pull off on even an off day. Quickly glossing over Paganini’s childhood, as well as his mysterious alliance with a Papa Lazarou-like manager named Urbani (Jared Harris), the film quickly settles on the main meat of the story, Paganini’s first concerts in London. Here he takes advantage of far too trusting promoter John Watson (Christian McKay), before setting his sights on Watson’s attractive young daughter Charlotte (Andrea Deck).

With its conservative protests, swooning crowds and indulgent drug taking, Rose takes the approach of comparing Paganini to the likes of a modern rock star. It’s an angle that could bode well for music history teachers looking at fitting parallels of more contemporary artists for students. However, for all the films poetic license (I doubt Paganini had management as sinister as Urbani), it is a little sad that Paganini’s conflicts and demons boil down to uncooked daddy issues. This may have been more effective if David Garrett was a more convincing lead. His long hair and sublime playing show that Garrett looks the part. Yet we never truly get under the skin of Paganini or his relationship with either Urbani or Charlotte.

This doesn’t stop Rose from shooting a rather rich and lavish production on a modest budget. Nor does it prevent enjoyable performances from McKay, Harris or Joely Richardson. All three performers slaver relish over the scenery before chowing down greedily in every scene they crop up in.

Then, of course, there’s the music that features. Garrett revels in showing his talent with some truly wonderful playing, including a small yet gorgeous rendition of God Save the King. One may wish that other aspects of the film were as sweetly portrayed, but there’s still more than enough silver linings to weather the darker clouds.