The Names of Love
Directed by Michel Lecrlerc
The Grade: B+
The Names of Love is a delightful new French comedy about the generations worth of baggage so many of us carry within the origins of our names. Jacques Gamblin and Sara Forestier star as an unlikely romantic couple trying to come to terms with how their ethnic backgrounds inform and/or impede on their roles in modern French society.
Gamblin plays the boring and uptight Arthur Martin, whose painfully common name (we learn there are over 15,000 Arthur Martins living in France) hides the fact that his mother is an Auschwitz survivor descended from Greek Jews. Arthur falls in love with the beautiful but chaotic Baya (Forestier), who makes sure everyone knows she has an Algerian father. Baya is on a life mission to convert her political opponents by sleeping with them—as Arthur put it, “she uses her body as a weapon of mass destruction against the fascists.”
Forestier, who won this year’s Cesar Award (the French Oscar) for Best Actress in the film, is absolutely fantastic as Baya, who wears not just her heart, but her entire cultural being on her sleeve. We see her choose “whoring” for the greater good that she thinks it can do for the nation’s political climate, and then we watch the upheaval of her world when she falls in love with Arthur. In a particularly memorable moment, we learn why she holds herself responsible for the election of (current French President) Nicolas Sarkozy.
Even if some sequences feel a bit too rushed, the film maintains its grounding via a humorous running commentary by adolescent versions of Arthur and Baya. In his first major film behind the camera, writer/director Michel Leclerc does a wonderful job of finding the whimsical comedy behind a weighty subject matter, and he approaches it with a grace and maturity that point towards a bright future.