400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.

With awards season in full bore, I thought I would go back and look at some of the year's most wonderful sleepers, the films that "fell through the cracks" and are not appearing in awards lists or on top ten lists -- one reason being that they came out earlier in the year and were not issued on "for your consideration" Academy DVD screeners. I'd like to start with one of the most overlooked great films of the year, one that was virtually ignored by both the press and the public: The Dark Knight.

Just kidding. Let's start by looking at The Violin, which is very much worth tracking down. 2006 was the year of the much-publicized "Mexican New Wave," and most writers focused on three major films (Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men and Babel), while passing over of the terrific smaller ones, like Duck Season and Battle in Heaven. Directed by Francisco Vargas, The Violin was made at around the same time, but didn't surface until 2007 in film festivals, and then early in 2008 for a tiny theatrical release. At the risk of cheapening the film with a cursory plot summary, it's the story of an aged, one-handed man who -- more or less -- helps his guerrilla son by serenading a sensitive but sinister military captain (he has to strap the violin bow to the stump of his hand). Vargas shoots in gorgeous black-and-white, cannily switching between hand-held and still shots.

categories Columns, Cinematical