The Names of Love – Movie Review

The usual beautiful people and lusty hijinks of French comedy with an undercurrent of acceptance and reconciliation.

Emerging director/co-writer Michel Leclerc comes out of the gate fast with this engaging and witty romantic comedy starring Jacques Gamblin and Sara Forestier. Forestier carries the ball as spritely and insouciant Baya Benmahmoud and wins the César for Best Actress in the process. She brings a powerful combination of innocence, sincerity and, well, sexuality. After all, the film is French.

Extroverted liberal Baya lives by the old hippie slogan, “Make love, not war.” And she really means it. Specifically, her tactic is to convert right-wing men to her left-wing political causes by sleeping with them. Having a track record of 100% (when you see her you will know why) she is nonplussed with Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin). A Jewish middle aged, middle-of-the road scientist he seems to have a remarkable resistance when it comes to Baya’s unabashed approach.

The film melds this silliness with some serious allusions to the shared family tragedies that occurred because of the Algerian War and the Holocaust under Vichy. When the two fall in love they find that a new WWII might be bubbling just under the surface of their newfound ecstasy.

Once the lines of political and religious correctness have been thoroughly trashed under the heels of unrestrained Gallic lust, the screenplay (co-authored by Baya Kasmi) is free to execute well-choreographed satirical riffs on Arab-Jewish relations, anti-Semitism and berserk immigration laws as well as standard cultural quirkiness.

This screenplay develops the current trend towards exposure and transparency with regard to past political injustices. To some degree this trend is more the result of modern technology that it is evidence of a newfound conscience. Perhaps the Internet is beginning to cause sufficient uneasiness that leaders are feeling it is better to release the skeletons from the closets with the best possible spin that it is to let the dead come back to life courtesy of the World Wide Web.

Be that as it may this film is still 90% fun and romance and very little harping on the past. Baya has some growing up to do and Arthur needs to come to grips with his inhibited middle class mores. Between the two victims of past injustices they can come up with solutions and understanding that neither one is capable of forming on his or her own.

The lively soundtrack and bright dynamic cinematography make the best use of the mixture of cultures and values that are always hovering in the background. Differences of opinion and difference in cultural background are the wealth of the world and everything seen and heard in this movie accents the positive.

Sara Forestier is on a steep trajectory upwards for a twenty four year old. She comes to this film from Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Games of Love and Chance” and won the César for Best Female Newcomer for her work in that film. Since then she has collaborated with Michel Deville, Bertrand Blier, and Alain Resnais.
Jacques Gamblin is a Berlin Film Festival award winner, whose credits include Bertrand Tavernier’s “Safe Conduct” and Claude Chabrol’s final film, “Bellamy.” Mr. Gamblin just completed filming Gianni Amelio’s “The First Man” based on the novel by Albert Camus.
Be open for the silliness and you will find this movie a most delightful jaunt into the irresistible world of French romantic comedy.

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Directed by: Michel Leclerc
Written by: Michel Leclerc, Baya Kasmi
Starring: Sara Forestier, Jacques Gamblin and Zinedine Soualem 
Release Date: June 24, 2011
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 100 minutes
Country: France
Language: French / English / Greek / Arabic
Color: B&W / Color

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