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Song of Names

Sunday 5 April 2020

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Sunday, 5 April 2020, 4:00 pm - Cancelled
Rainbow Theatre, Northumberland Mall, Cobourg

song of namesAs Europe erupts into World War II, 9 year old Martin comes to love his new brother Dovidl, a highly gifted violin prodigy of the same age and recent Polish-Jewish refugee to London. But hours before Dovidl's debut concert performance at the age of 21 he vanishes without a trace, causing shame and ruin for their family. A lifetime later, a young violinist shows a 56 year old Martin a stylistic flourish that could only have been taught by Dovidl. This triggers Martin's odyssey overseas in search of his lost brother, one that will lead to surprising revelations for both men and for Helen, the woman who stood between them.

Cast: Tim Roth, Clive Owen, Catherine McCormack, Jonah Hauer-King, Gerran Howell, Luke Doyle
Directed By: François Girard
Written By: Jeffrey Caine
Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language, brief sexual material, thematic elements, and smoking)
Genre: Drama, Musical & Performing Arts
Runtime: 113 minutes  Language: English


By Christopher Llewellyn Reed

There is one truly affecting scene in The Song of Names, the new film from François Girard (The Red Violin), based on the eponymous 2002 novel by Norman Lebrecht: a young Polish Jew in 1951 London finds himself in an orthodox synagogue listening to the names of his Nazi-murdered relatives sung by a rabbi, overcome by the understandable emotion of the moment. Unlike so much of the rest of the movie, which screams its manufactured contrivances throughout, this moment is suffused with genuine sentiment. How could it not be, given the real-life horrors of the Shoah? Still, even the powerful catharsis of the lament is tinged with the narrative machinations that plague the overall script, its gravitas tacked on like a cheat.

song of names3 450Despite my disappointment with the story, there are a few solid elements to recommend. Tim Roth (Luce) is always extremely watchable as Martin Simmonds, a 50-ish classical-music impresario (of sorts, as we never really learn what he does, exactly) who becomes obsessed with finding the foster brother – a violin prodigy and Jewish refugee from Poland named Dovidl Rapoport – with whom he grew up, who mysteriously vanished on the night of his concert debut, at 21. When Martin, 35 years later, sees (in the first of many ridiculous coincidences) a boy repeat an action, on stage at a musical competition, identical to one that Dovidl used to perform before playing, he launches into a frenzied international search for his long-lost companion. If you ask, as did I, “what took him so long?,” then The Song of Names may not be for you.

song of names5 450As terrific as is Roth, however, the actors who play his younger self are less compelling. No better are those who play Dovidl, though he will eventually morph into Clive Owen (Ophelia), which is not a bad thing. Worse than the uneven collection of performances is the expositional dialogue forced upon the actors, and the constant series of thinly plotted happy dramatic accidents that lead Roth’s Martin rather quickly (albeit with a 35-year delay) towards his target. And then there are the bitter women on the edges (both of whom chain smoke, for some reason), one played by Catherine McCormack (The Fold), whose primary purpose is to wish men were better, though a strange final-act revelation subverts that particular complaint. In 2020, what could be better are more substantial roles for actresses.

The plot, despite the above problems, does hold one’s interest for significant chunks, before the heavy hands of screenwriter Jeffrey Caine (The Constant Gardener) reveal themselves once more. At its center, as shown in that synagogue sequence, lies a tragic tale that should move us all. If only this song could sing beyond that single, forceful verse.