DIRECTED BY: FRANCOIS GIRARD/2019
The Song of Names is a fascinating tale about the mysterious disappearance of a young, Jewish violin prodigy, and the search to find him 35 years later. Set in England at the onset of World War II, The Song of Names features a strong cast, and a compelling story, even if it plays its notes a little too safe.
Dovidl (age 9-13 Luke Doyle, 17-21 Jonah Hauer-King, adult Clive Owen) is a young boy whose father has brought him to London, from their native Poland, to participate in a prestigious music program. In order for him to stay, he is invited to stay with the head of the program and his family, which includes a boy about Dovidl’s age, named Martin (age 9-13 Misha Handley, 17-21 Gerran Howell, adult Tim Roth).
The chronology of the film begins to skip around shortly after the opening scene depicting a teenage Dovidl who is about to have a massive concert in London. This concert is being covered by the BBC and is being attended by a list of VIP’s from the classical musical world. Martin’s family has sunk all of their savings into putting on this show, after having raised Dovidl as one of their own all of these years. Shortly after Dovidl came to live with Martin, Germany invaded Poland, and Dovidl had never heard from his parents again. In short, this has been his family the past decade, and they are proud of him and want to give him the opportunity to showcase his talent and secure his future as a performer. As the concert is about to start, there is no sign of Dovidl, however, and no explanation is provided as to why he hasn’t shown up. This is one of the mysteries that the film will solve. The film then fast forwards 35 years into the future.
Martin has followed in his father’s footsteps and is the director of an elite musical program, traveling around the world trying to find the genius prodigies that might be hiding in obscurity, so that they can train them and give them the opportunity to pursue their gifting. Martin’s wife Helen (Catherine McCormack) understands her husband’s job, but knows that secretly, as he travels, he is hoping to find his “brother” Dovidl who hasn’t been seen since that fateful concert 35 years earlier.
The Song of Names is a pretty straight forward and simple story of a man trying to reconnect with his past. As the story skips in and out of scenes from Martin and Dovidl’s youth, we get a fuller picture of their relationship and why Martin would want to find his friend. We also are introduced to a powerfully touching story of Dovidl’s journey to come to terms with not knowing what happened to his family and how his disappearance 35 years earlier might correlate to that.
Roth plays a rather subdued character for once, and Clive Owen demonstrates a range you don’t normally get to see from him in more action related fare. Their chemistry is good and effective for driving home the tenderness of the plot that emerges once all of the pieces of the narrative puzzle are revealed to the viewer. Particularly good is the unexpected reactions of Martin once his search is fully realized.
In between the flashbacks and the more modern timeline of Martin in search for talent and his long lost brother, The Song of Names delivers a fantastic and beautiful score by composer Howard Shore, including the haunting piece for which the film was named. Jeffrey Caine has provided the screenplay, based on the novel by Norman Lebrecht.
The Song of Names is playing in select theaters.