It doesn't need a lover of classical music to appreciate the dramatic conflicts in the life of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), but the heavily camouflaged screen treatment presented here is more an artistic interpretation than a traditional biography. The film wants to expose the (often bitter) core of the composer's musical inspiration, by daring to be more expressionistic than any of his symphonies. It doesn't even make sense to evaluate Ben Kingsley's starring performance, because the entire design of the film is pitched so far beyond any standard of objective realism, with hypnotic, dreamlike imagery shifting from black and white to color and from dramatic facsimile to actual archival footage. The results are both powerful and pretentious, working best when the music itself is highlighted in historical context. Shostakovich was very much a witness as well as a victim of his era, and his music often reflected the violent events and conditions around him.