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Tim Roth stars as Martin in The Song of Names. // Sony Pictures Classics

Review: François Girard’s The Song of Names

The Song of Names
Directed by François Girard; screenplay by Jeffrey Caine; based on a novel by Norman Lebrecht; now available on Google Play.
Our Score
The Song of Names

World War II movies generally form part of a pretty depressing genre. François Girard’s The Song of Names isn’t much of an exception, except that it does manage to find beauty in grief. 

The premise of the film is that Martin (Tim Roth) is looking for Dovidl (Clive Owen), the Polish Jewish violin prodigy who came to live with him and his family at the onset of WWII and who disappeared the night of his big concert debut in 1951. By the end of the film, Martin has found the answers to some of his questions about the circumstances surrounding Dovidl’s disappearance and the audience is left with an interesting conclusion to digest, but there’s something missing at the heart of the relationship between Martin and Dovidl that feels unsatisfying. 

Misha Handley and Luke Doyle play Martin and Dovidl, respectively, as children, and the boys share excellent chemistry as on-screen best friends. Gerran Howell and Jonah Hauer-King play Martin and Dovidl, again respectively, as young men, and at this point, their wildly different personalities are highlighted and you begin to see how they might eventually grow apart. But then Dovidl disappears, and we fast forward decades later to when Martin suddenly gets a lead on Dovidl’s whereabouts and, for no hugely apparent reason, becomes obsessed with the idea of tracking him down. 

Martin’s motivations are the real mystery of this movie. It’s never clear why, beyond his conviction that Dovidl was like a brother to him, he is so dead set on finding Dovidl or what he expects to gain from reconnecting with him. Martin’s wife Helen (Catherine McCormack) even questions him on this, but without extracting any decent explanation. 

Despite the middling plot, the film includes a number of fine performances. The attention to detail given by the costume and set departments is also notable. As one might expect, there’s a lot of work that went into creating London during the Blitz, but even the sections of the film set in more recent history are historical—they’re set in the 1980s and everything, from the cars to the hotel room phones, is appropriately retro.

Overall, The Song of Names is not a bad film and probably worth at least one watch.

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