By Josh Cabrita
Though the designation of a “late work” is usually reserved for revered masters who in their twilight years distil their style down to its supposedly purified essence, I see no reason why that term couldn’t also apply to a decidedly mediocre (and rarely brilliant) filmmaker like François Girard. Adapted from a book I’ll never read by Norman Lebrecht and revisiting many of the journeyman director’s perennial fascinations (classical music, stories with multiple timelines, tactlessly integrated histories of trauma), The Song of Names is nothing if not a late film, inasmuch as the defining features of that term are “half-assed,” “shoddy,” and “lacklustre.”
The Song of Names follows two childhood friends: Dovidl, a musical prodigy from Poland, and Martin, the son of the man who adopted the boy amidst unrest in his home country prior to WWII. Revolving around the mystery as to why Dovidl disappeared on the night of the concert that was to secure his fame, Girard’s film feels like a relic of middlebrow prestige pictures from the 1990s—so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it features the washed-up likes of Tim Roth (adult Martin) and Clive Owen (not to be spoiled), both of whom do their best to oversell their roles despite being all too aware that such histrionics are unlikely to merit any awards consideration. Long gone are the days where The Red Violin could con its way to credibility; for better or worse, we have different fish to fry now.