“The Song of Names,” based on Norman Lebrecht’s award-winning novel, is a story of two people sent off in different directions searching for lost family members.
The action begins in 1951. On the eve of his debut concert performance, for a packed house, including kings and queens, Polish musical prodigy Dovidl Rapoport (Jonah Hauer-King) disappears. His adopted English family, including brother Martin (Gerran Howell) is distraught. They first met Dovidl as a nine-year-old who, when he moved in with them to study violin, declared, “If I snore I snore in tune. I am a musician!” The family kept him safe from the Nazi threat and groomed him for greatness.
Cut to 1986. Martin, now played by Tim Roth, is adjudicating a music competition in Northern England when a contestant uses a technique that seems very familiar. Thoughts of his erstwhile brother have consumed Martin and this simple but unique method of rosining the bow sets Martin on a journey that will take him to Poland and finally New York City. His quest has one simple purpose, to find out why Dovidl (played as an adult by Clive Owen) left.
As a celebration of music “The Song of Names” is terrific. Legendary composer Howard Shore has written new music, including the “Song of Names,” a moving recitation of the names of all the Jewish people killed at Treblinka. It’s a powerful moment, solemn and heartrending, that is the film’s absolute high point. More playful is a violin duel in a London air raid shelter between the nine-year-old Dovidl and a teenage rival. Both scenes display the power of music to move us, whether it is to tears or to applause.
It’s the detective story that falls short. Clues that have eluded Martin for decades suddenly become obvious and the journey, such that it is, seems less like a mystery and more like a game of “Where’s Waldo.” More intrigue may have brought with it more emotional weight.
“The Song of Names” is a handsome, if somewhat dreary historical drama that does hit the emotional notes it needs to succeed.
This week on the Richard Crouse Show: Howard Shore has composed scores for over 80 films, including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies. He has three Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards and four Grammy Awards on his shelves and was the original musical director for the American show Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980. He is also a consistent collaborator with director David Cronenberg, having scored all but one of his films since 1979. He has also composed a few concert works including one opera, The Fly, based on the plot of Cronenberg’s 1986 film.
Based on the award-winning novel by music scholar Norman Lebrecht, THE SONG OF NAMES is a bold journey through friendship, betrayal, and reconciliation.
SYNOPSIS: 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. An emotional story spread over two continents and half a century, the film shows that within the darkest of mysteries sometimes only music has the power to illuminate the truth, heal and redeem.
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