The pivoting point in the movie is the movement of the old man between the world of the occupiers and his own villagers. He has to harvest his corn crop he says, as an excuse to get to the land now occupied by the military invaders and in reality this is the thin line he walks between being slaughtered and bringing his people back home. The plot feeds on the tension created by his musical merit and the ignorance of the occupiers. Here is how the story unfolds.
The story starts with villagers who go about their daily business but then in a land of poverty they are still threatened by a shift in power. The military accuses them of harboring rebels. Most of us have seen countless peasant struggles but what makes this different is the metaphoric language brought out by a man who has nothing to lose except his dignity in old age. Early on the old man has his violin taken from him. One does not know the clear motive behind this but can guess that here is popular means of keeping one hostage without physical aggression.
Tension mounts around the instrument as each side has a different agenda on how to use it. The old man would want to transport munitions in its case while the commander would want the comfort of turning back to earlier years when he failed to have music in his youth. The strength of the old man lies in his ability to play a violin he would hide in his cornfield were it not for munitions currently stashed for his villagers. One recognizes early that his prowess lies in his cunning to buy time so that he can visit his property in exchange for having to play his violin. This is a man whose life is attached to his music. Oddly enough there is a bond between he and the military commander who soon trusts the old man to instruct him on playing at least until he realizes that the violin is only a cover.
The poetic imagery also makes these ordinary people stronger than the eye would see. I appreciated the tender scene between grandfather and grandson explaining the conflict between the forces of good and evil as a godly plan to show mortals wall material greed does; eventually the vanquished will arise and claim their rightful place. That explanation was narrated as the camera climbed up the knotty trunk of a tree. The grandson would later reappear at the end of the film putting the narrative to music while playing a guitar, which was enough to remind of his carrying the old man’s torch.
It is however the visuals of the man riding his mule compared to the modern jeep of the commander that helps to transport the tension to the viewer even more directly than the dialogue. Hence the lonely scenes of the man as he has to reckon with the security people who could not care about whose property was whose, adds weight to the confrontation when eventually the old man could finally use the violin as the final weapon in his struggle.