If you’re in the mood for a fast-food flick, a two-hour drama from a French-Canadian auteur may not be what you need. But if you’re craving the film equivalent of a steaming repast, light and choice — with wine — The Song of Names is sure to suit your particular fancy.
It’s a film about boys, responsibility and tradition — not exactly controversial themes these days, but certainly not popular ones, either. Director François Girard (The Red Violin) carefully navigates those topics and delivers a satisfying piece of cinema. We see the film’s characters develop from adolescents to adults, carrying the weight of circumstances outside their control — namely, the Second World War and attendant miseries.
For a movie about music, Tim Roth’s performance as grown-up Martin at times feels monotone, but it soon develops into more varied expressions. Clive Owen, who must have had limited availability during shooting, enters the film at practically the last minute and gives a somewhat static performance as adult Dovidl.
Among The Song of Names’ cinematic achievements, you may enjoy some of its excellent photography, which interposes almost seamlessly computer-augmented environments meant to transport the viewer to historic London, Warsaw and various other locales.
The film’s nonlinear plot cuts back and forth from past to present, aided by superior film editing. Making the jumps in time seems effortless, and the viewer will not be left playing catch-up with the story.
All in all, The Song of Names demonstrates how the language of film is a lot like music, mixing disparate parts to form a cohesive symphonic whole. It registers emotion while avoiding kitsch, captures the brutality of 20th century fascism without devolving into sermonizing — and is definitely worth a watch.
Starts Jan. 24 at Grail Moviehouse