Paginini was the Robert Johnson of classical music. His ferocious technique and
unparalleled popular success were seriously considered the fruits of a Faustian
bargain. The talent was always there. Getting people to listen was the hard
part. In fact, it was such a tricky proposition, the materialist maestro gladly
makes that deal in Bernard Rose’s The
Devil’s Violinist (trailer
which opens this Friday in New York.
has not numbed the Mephistophelean Urbani’s nose for talent. He immediately recognizes
the gifts of an aspiring Don Juan violinist scuffling in grubby music halls. He
pledges to guarantee Paginini’s career and serve as his personal servant in
this world, if Paginini agrees to do the same for him in the next. Shortly
after signing a contract he probably should have read more closely, Paginini’s
career ignites. He becomes a figure of dark romance and veiled controversy,
like an early Nineteenth Century Heavy Metal rock star.
Paginini gets bored with it all, spending long hours brooding in the tub, doing
his best to resemble The Death of Marat.
Fortunately, Paginini somewhat snaps out of his lethargy when he accepts
upstart promoter John Watson’s offer to produce and conduct his London debuts
concerts. However, Paginini’s demands will stretch the limits of Watson’s
resources. Met by a mob of moralizing progressive protestors, Watson and his
diva mistress Elisabeth Wells are forced to quarter Paginini and Urbani in
their home. Of course, Watson’s daughter Charlotte immediately catches Paginini’s
eye, but she is not inclined to swoon over the maestro, at least not yet.
always thought Jared Harris just might be the Devil, so Violinist practically feels like a confirmation. He is delightfully
sinister chewing on the scenery. Yet ironically, Urbani (who seems to be more
of a minion than Old Scratch himself) is not infrequently portrayed as a more
empathetic fellow than Paginini. Regardless, it is great fun watching him lurk
prodigy and classical crossover artist David Garrett can certainly play. Acting
is a little iffier. Perhaps the many scenes of his Paginini huddling in bed sheets
in a state of near catatonia was a shrewd strategic decision on Rose’s part.
Fortunately, Harris has some terrific supporting players to engage with, including
Christian McKay, unflaggingly earnest as Watson, as well as Joely Richardson suggesting
Eliza Doolittle’s morally flexible cousin as tabloid music critic Ethel
In a way, Devil’s
Violinist reconciles the classy Jekyll films Rose has helmed, such as the
Beethoven bio-pic Immortal Beloved
and the superior Sophie Marceau version of Anna
Karenina, with his Hydish scare fare, like Candyman and SXTape. For
obvious reasons, he leans towards the former, depicting Urbani more as a
Svengali than a figure of satanic horror. It works relatively well, despite
Garrett’s awkwardness, which sometimes even feels fitting in context. Harris certainly
does his thing and Garrett’s musical chops are also quite cinematic.
Recommended for classical connoisseurs who appreciate a bit of uncanny garnish,
The Devil’s Violinist opens this
Friday (1/30) in New York, at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Bernard Rose, Faustian films, Jared Harris