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THE VIOLIN TEACHER (Brazil 2016) ***
Directed by Sergio Machado
Starring: Lázaro Ramos, Kaique de Jesus, Elzio Vieira
Review by Gilbert Seah
A Brazilian version of Meryl Streep’s MUSIC OF THE HEART?
THE VIOLIN TEACHER, which opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, serves both as an art house film and a crowd pleaser. From the film’s very first frame, the audience sees the protagonist, a talented but tortured soul named Laerte (Lazaro Ramos) unable to fulfil his promise during an important violin audition for the famous São Paulo Symphonic Orchestra. When he returns home disgruntled, he has a long distance telephone call with his dad where the audience sees his parents’ full support and him not reaching his full potential. The next scene ups the angst when he quarrels at his orchestra practice and his group is disbanded. To make matters worse, he has no money to pay rent and is served with an eviction notice. But lo and behold! There is hope. He has a chance to make some money by teaching a group of underprivileged violin students in the slums of Helipolis. His path is, as expected, full of difficulties but the film attempts to show that the transforming power of music and the friendship arising between the professor and his students open the doors into a new world. This is where the story is stretched a bit too far in crowd-pleasing territory. This comes despite the fact that the film is based on a true story.
The film contains two scenes that are quite difficult to believe. One is the night scene when thugs threaten Laerte. Laerte takes out the violin and plays a classical piece, apparently so well that the uneducated thugs are mesmerized and leave him alone. The audience also learns during the film that the kids have no knowledge of music theory. They do not know what a treble cleft is nor can they read notes. The scene that follows has the kids at practice playing a classical piece conducted by Laaerte quite effectively.
But the film works when the director stops trying too hard and lets his film flow. The scene that contains no dialogue where Laerte walks with his students demonstrates the new camaraderie created very effectively. The film also bursts into energy in the club scene where dancers rap to the Brazilian beats – a scene that is only loosely tied to the plot.
The segment where Laerte agrees to have his kids play for a drug dealer’s party might sound far-fetched, but one can tell that the incident actually happened.
Flaws aside, THE VIOLIN TEACHERS captures both the atmosphere of liveliness and difficulty of survival in the slums. (The part where a father strikes his son with the hope that the son will not hang around the wrong crowd hits the story home.) That together with Ramos’ performance lifts THE VIOLIN TEACHER over the drabness of a formulaic film too eager to please. Also, needless to say, the film contains a beautiful score of violin classical pieces.
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