Sex, Drugs and Violin Concertos
In The Devil’s Violinist, classical hunk David Garrett plays 19th century virtuoso Niccolò Paganini
By all accounts, Niccolò Paganini led an interesting life: Part of the first crop of world-famous violin virtuosos, his skill on the fiddle was unrivalled: He was capable of playing an entire concerto on a single string – a near necessity, as he frequently broke strings during performances.
It is not his skill however, but rather his rumoured association with the Devil (supposedly the source of his talent) that provides David Garrett, a German-American violinist whose pop music crossovers have gained him mainstream recognition, an ideal storyline for his big screen debut.
Written and directed by Bernard Rose, the film’s central goal is to establish the great Paganini (and by extension, Garrett himself) as a modern-day rock star. All the trappings are there, largely based on the historical record: flamboyant clothes; egocentric, monomaniacal behaviour; profligate spending; sunglasses; drugs & booze; hysterical fans (and groupies); conservative moralist backlash; even a Faustian deal for worldwide fame in his time.
And while the narrative ostensibly revolves around a doomed love affair during his conquest of London, the defining relationship is between the maestro and his stygian manager Urbani (Jared Harris).
This however, is where the movie falls short: The Devil is simply too mundane to be convincing. To be sure, Urbani looks infernal enough, but it’s hard to imagine the Prince of Darkness lustily peeping through keyholes while his charge carouses with groupies – or using schoolyard intrigues to break up his budding love affair. It would work if he were simply a two-bit concert promoter trying to maintain total control over his cash cow, but the heavy implications that he is something much more beggar disbelief.
Resorting to violins
Ultimately, The Devil’s Violinist is a typical pop star vehicle in the grand tradition of the Elvis films: middling production values showcasing a star whose only thespian skill is looking soulfully into the camera.
While offset by the excellent supporting cast (including Austrian greats Veronika Ferres and Helmut Berger), the fact remains that David Garrett’s acting ability is not to be trusted more than three feet away from a fiddle. Still, it is exceedingly rare for an artist to be kissed by several muses at once; and Garrett does have both devastating good looks and total command of his instrument. Two out of three ain’t bad; just as with Elvis, his fans certainly won’t mind.
The Devil’s Violinist
Now playing at De France
(English with German subtitles)