In an unnamed Latin country "El Violin" opens with a scene of soldiers torturing a rebel while his family watches in horror. And then we're shown another family - Don Plutarco, an aged violinist, in his eighties, who has only one hand but straps his bow to his arm so that he can play; his son Genaro, who plays guitar, and Genaro's son Lucio, who collects small change from listeners as the group meanders down the street of a small town.
Then the army comes to their village and burns it as all the villagers scramble to the hills for safety. Don Plutarco's family runs as well, but they are also involved in the civil war; they and their group have hidden ammunition in Don Plutarco's corn field, which is now occupied by the government. In order for the group to make any kind of attack on government positions they must get hold of that ammunition. Don Plutarco goes to the local landlord and pledges his corn crop in exchange for a burro. He then goes to his village where he says he's just looking after his corn crop, but the lieutenant in charge asks him to play. In fact, every day he must come back to the village to play for the lieutenant.
One day, when the lieutenant is away, Don Plutarco sneaks back to his cornfield and gets out the ammunition, which he puts into his violin case. What is absolutely engrossing about "El Violin" is watching this 80-year-old man trying to outsmart the army. The film takes its time, as would any film that moves to the rhythms of a burro and a cornfield. Don Angel Tavira, an itinerant musician who's never acted before, plays Don Plutarco, and he has both the majesty and the personal modesty that come with age and wisdom.
"El Violin" is the first film from the Mexican director Francisco Vargas, who also wrote and produced it, and he hasn't made the mistake of trying to do too much, rather letting it all unfold at its own pace. It's a film that stays with you long afterwards. It's playing right now at the Magic Lantern in Spokane.