Let me completely clear: ‘The Violin Player’ is a guilty pleasure of the highest order, disguised as a prestige arthouse film. It’s the kind of foreign film you’d expect to find when browsing through the TV guide late at night, and after briefly glossing over the synopsis, you decide to give it a shot. You know it’s going to try to be sensual, you know it’s probably going to be well-shot, and you’ll probably give it a half-assed recommendation to a friend, but the chance you’ll remember anything is incredibly low.
While my star rating might seem generous considering the above description, what the film excels at is telling an interesting story that delves into the psyche of musicians striving for perfection, but through a female protagonist. Karin Thompson (Matleena Kuusniemi, TV’s ‘Hooked’), as we see at the beginning of the film, is the famous and talented titular violin player – so famous, in fact, that she gets recognised on the street. After a freak accident in which Karin loses motor skill in her left hand, she reluctantly moves to teaching. Feeling lost and needing empathy that her family seem unable to give her, she finds herself drawn to her student Antti (Olavi Uusivirta, 'Open Up To Me’), who gives her the respect she so desperately craves after having her career yanked from her hands. You can guess the rest.
One of the most endearing aspects of the film is how it explores careers in the performance industry and how those who pour so much of their identity into their work cope when their work gets stripped from them. Karin’s recovery from her accident is glossed over; apart from her hand, she has been lucky in her lack of injuries. To anyone this would be a miracle, but not to Karin. In true melodrama fashion, she tries to operate as per normal, despite everyone telling her she should take it easy, leading to the inevitable smashing of objects in frustration. It manages to feel cliché and fresh simultaneously. The film operates in the same realm as ‘Whiplash’ and ‘Black Swan’, except only scratches at the surface of the psychological horrors those films dive deep into. No doubt some of Karin’s despair stems from being involved in an industry which seems difficult for a woman to succeed in; Karin’s class features some women, but Karin doesn’t ever give them the time of day. It seems that, after years of being the best, the fact that one day another woman may succeed her may be too much to take.
One of the most endearing aspects of the film is how it explores careers in the performance industry.
The film also has a unique visual language, coated in a cool colour palette and shot in a manner that makes textures feel as soft and lush as a cashmere sweater. Focusing the camera on hands and faces draws an inedible connection between the mental and physical aspects of musical performance.
Unfortunately, the wheels start to fall off pretty dramatically by the third act, from both a narrative standpoint and a technical one. The characters, either through desperation or the script feeling like it needs to throw in some fireworks, begin acting in pretty rash ways. The frantic silliness of the third act is driven home by some of the editing choices; it’s obvious the film is trying to build tension in a particularly painful rehearsal scene, but it just comes off as ham-fisted and unintentionally hilarious.
I can’t say I would recommend ‘The Violin Player’ to everyone, but going in acutely aware of the experience you’ll have, along with its eye-pleasing cinematography, may just be its saving grace.