It was both surprising and unsurprising to find out director François Girard was attached to The Song of Names. By going into the movie blind, so much of Girard’s film reminded me of the Oscar winning drama The Red Violin. This discovery that both films were directed by the same person made sense, but I didn’t expect The Song of Names to pale so much in comparison.
The Red Violin told an evocative story about memories and music from different perspectives of characters trying to obtain the same titular instrument. The Song of Names is also triggered by the same themes, chronicling the investigation of a musical genius’ disappearance by a motivated Englishman (Tim Roth) who still remembers him as a childhood friend. Girard (working with an adapted script written by Jeffrey Caine) uses the past to build clues for the current search, piecing together fragments of a splintered relationship.
The Song of Names plays by the same rules as The Red Violin, but the film is guarded by a screenwriter who carries a surface-level understanding of its story and characters. Caine (who wrote the screen adaptation for The Constant Gardener) is capable of conveying a tale that’s easy to follow over intersecting periods of time (I can’t comment if Norman Lebrecht’s novel is the same), but he hasn’t provided enough information for Girard to snatch the audience’s interest. There’s a cultural connection in the material, but only through recognizable symbols and biopic conventions. The structure and dialogue is so by-the-numbers, a computer could’ve written this. This also clouds Girard’s vision, which comes across as dry and clichéd.
The movie offers solid performances, wonderful music, and a compelling instinct to tell a different coming-of-age story. But without sufficient infrastructure, the strengths in The Song of Names almost go unidentified.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie