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film review
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Luke Doyle as Dovidl playing the violin in an air-raid shelter in The Song of Names.Sabrina Lantos/Courtesy of Elevation

  • The Song of Names
  • Directed by François Girard
  • Written by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by Norman Lebrecht
  • Starring Tim Roth, Clive Owen and Catherine McCormack
  • Classification: PG; 113 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

In postwar London, a Jewish violin prodigy rescued from Poland by a British impresario disappears on the night of his professional debut thereby ruining the man who saved him. Thirty-five years later, the impresario’s son Martin sees a student ape one of Dovidl’s mannerisms and so begins a historical detective story with a strong premise (from the novel by Norman Lebrecht) and poignant musical conclusion (the score is by Howard Shore) but a plodding middle.

Holiday movie guide: Reviews of films opening through the end of December

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Tim Roth plays the adult Martin searching for his childhood companion in The Song of Names.Sabrina Lantos/Courtesy of Elevation

Quebec director François Girard is known for his fine touch with musical stories (Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould; The Red Violin) but early scenes are painful, with brittle young actors spouting torrents of exposition from screenwriter Jeffrey Caine. Things improve as a touchingly reserved Tim Roth plays the adult Martin searching for his childhood companion, and thoughts about the competing demands of past and present occasionally raise The Song of Names above the overworked Holocaust genre. The flawed figure of Dovidl is intriguing, but Clive Owen would need more screen time to deliver on the adult version of his character. Mainly, this movie chatters when it should sing.

The Song of Names opens Dec. 25

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