by Tony Dayoub
Lionsgate Films' new Meridian Collection debuted in May. It is intended to showcase foreign films in newly remastered editions with more extras than previously available on DVD. The first two films to launch the collection are the classic Diva (1981) and a cult favorite, The Red Violin (1998).
In Diva, Jules (Frédéric Andréi), a postal worker, secretly records a famous opera singer's performance. The tape is in high demand since the performer, Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez) has stated she would never allow any recordings to be made of her voice. When the recording is switched with a tape exposing the leader of a prostitution ring, a chase involving the police and the underworld ensues, with the postal worker caught in the middle.
Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix, this classic film was at the forefront of a movement of filmmakers, like Luc Besson (Nikita), and Leos Carax (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf), collectively known as the "Cinema du Look". Panned by critics upon release, the film was accused of being pleasing to the eye, but ultimately shallow. Americans were having similar reactions to Paul Schrader's American Gigolo (1980), and Michael Mann's Thief (1981). Taken all together, it may be true that these films would ultimately inspire the Michael Bays of the world to stimulate moviegoers visually with no regard for complexity in story. But Beineix, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (who would go on to greater acclaim with some well-known films like Dangerous Liaisons), and production designer Hilton McConnico were essentially pioneering the a neo-noir. Visually expressionistic like its antecedents, the film now had the luxury of introducing color into film noir's palette. It still, however, limited the hues, focusing on the high contrast as the earlier noir films did, but in monochromatic blues and yellows instead of black and white. The neon sheen of this film and its American counterparts predates, and no doubt influenced, later fare such as Scarface (1983) and Miami Vice (1984).
The Red Violin is a triptych revolving around a violin that is being auctioned to high demand. After a prologue depicting the violin's "birth", a framing story follows an appraiser (Samuel L. Jackson), through the auction house's authentication process. The viewer is then treated to a "biography" of the musical instrument. Three stories, set in different countries and periods, give us a glimpse into the violin's "life", and its mystical ability to curse all who own it. The complex structure of the story centers around the dual mystery of whether this is the actual Red Violin everyone in the film has been pursuing, and why the legendary instrument is red.
This cult favorite has a wonderful Oscar-winning score by John Corigliano, and features passionate performances by Jason Flemyng, Don McKellar (who also cowrote the screenplay), and Greta Scacchi. While not a true classic on the level of Diva, The Red Violin has an aura of beauty and mystery that rewards both the new and repeat viewer.
These two films are definitely worth adding to your collection, and a step in the right direction for Lionsgate. I can't wait to see what the next films in their Meridian line will be.
Stills provided courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.