Never Finished Symphony: Our Review of ‘The Song of Names’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Movies, Theatrical, TIFF 2019 by - December 26, 2019
Never Finished Symphony: Our Review of ‘The Song of Names’

Sometimes the song doesn’t remain the same…

While The Song of Names certainly does have a couple of positives going for it, it’s most a languid affair that tries too hard to riff on the beats of the film The Red Violin which this film making team put out over 20 years ago.

Martin Simmonds (Tim Roth) has been haunted throughout his life by the mysterious disappearance of his “brother” and extraordinary best friend, a Polish Jewish virtuoso violinist, Dovidl Rapaport, who vanished shortly before the 1951 London debut concert that would have launched his brilliant career. Thirty-five years later, Martin discovers that Dovidl (Clive Owen) may still be alive, and sets out on an obsessive intercontinental search to find him and learn why he left.

It’s undeniably a nice story with a line throughout it all dealing with the importance of faith and its application to the arts, but The Song of Names all plays out in such an old fashion way that it just feels a little too talky; giving us a historical drama that kind of forgets to get us invested in the characters.

Director Francois Giraud has a knack for period drama and classical music to the point that he’s almost made himself a little farm industry out of it with this being fourth in his career (See 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin & Boychoir that preceded The Song Of Names).

It’s a good looking film to be sure, but this story that was adapted from the novel Norman Lebrecht by screenwriter Jeffrey Caine feels kind of wrote and predictable.  Sure the music is great and it looks good but the narrative beats are really so familiar that it can’t help but feel stale.  The end results of it all are a genuinely nice message about the power of faith and family but boy do we as the viewer, really have to put in a hell of a lot of work to get to where they wanted us to go.  While Giraud has shown a knack in the past for blending music in with these historical dramas, here everyone involved feels like they are just going through the motions and any beautiful music that is made in this film just gets lost in a shuffle of very stiff and generally uninterested actors.

That being said, it’s not really their fault and the material actually gives more work to the two actors who play the younger versions of Roth and Owen’s characters.  No one is bad in this film per say, but the direction feels rigid and with the exception of one scene between Roth and Owen there’s no genuine character interplay.  We’re supposed to care about all the drama that happened back in 1951, and while there is a little bit of a hook, there’s never a real emotional payout.  I’ll grant the fact that this is what the story is probably going for, but this kind of ambiguity can play out a lot more floridly in words then in visuals as it gets lost in the translation of it all.

Ultimately, The Song of Names is a nice enough movie if you want to hear some great classic music and have another drama about loss and sorrow in the Jewish community in the wake of World War II, but it had the potential to be much more.  Instead of a genuinely interesting exploration of the importance of faith; not only in a religious community but in the arts as well we get a run of the mill languid piece of drama that feels like’s it’s aiming for the middle and trying to make its 60-80 year old (and Jewish) viewing demographic a little more happy.

  • Release Date: 12/25/2019
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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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