Sérgio Machado’s The Violin Teacher (original title Tudo Que Aprendemos Juntos) is about the magic of music and the power of self-redemption. Having found success in the festival circuit (it was the closing film at Locarno), the film is now accessible to a wider audience. Beautiful music runs through the veins of the film, as we follow Laerte (actor Lázaro Ramos), who plays a violinist reeling from the failure of not making it into the Symphonic Orchestra of São Paulo. While such failure and its aftermath is not a new narrative, his disappointment is soon going to turn to something transformative. He is forced into teaching kids/teenagers in the slums of the city and that’s when the story takes root.
Laerte takes on the role of a teacher, as he ventures out from the haves of São Paolo to the have nots. He encounters a bunch of troubled young students, and thus his first interaction with them is less about music and more about him being a misfit in the crowd. His musical playground starts in a court behind some shanty houses, somewhere in the slums of the large metropolis. While the healing obviously will be both ways, Machado’s handling of the subject matter is poetic and finely crafted as the two sides stand antithetical to each other.
The group constantly tests Laerte’s patience and pushes him aggressively, but he pushes back, driven by the sole objective of bringing the best out of the lot. Machado introduces snippets of the violent subculture of the city, but doesn’t dwell into it too much. The social struggles of Heliópolis area of São Paulo are palpable and while the sporadic nature of the violent incidents that come to life seem erratic at times, they remain integral to the film’s narrative. As his students get tragically embroiled in the surrounding violence, Laerte’s sincerity and commitment are tested to the limit.
I loved the choices of the pan shots that Machado indulges in: spaces of symphony halls juxtaposed with wide shots of the shantytown. This is the reality of a large portion of the world and thus the obvious disparities of plenty and want are at display.
With great supporting performances by Kaique de Jesus playing Samuel and Elzio Vieira playing VR, The Violin Teacher stays with you for the universality of the human expression through music that continues to thrive and survive through even the toxic humanity that surrounds it.
The Violin Teacher is now playing at Cinema du Parc, in its original Portuguese version with English subtitles.