The Names of Love – Siff 2011 Movie Review

The Names of Love [ France (French), 2010, 102 minutes ]
Director: Michel Leclerc
Principal Cast: Jacques Gamblin, Sara Forestier, Zinedine Soualem, Carole Franck, Jacques Boudet, Michèle Moretti, Yann Goven
See it: May 31, June 3 at SIFF

This sweet, French comedy tackles issues of race and politics in an amazingly effective lighthearted way. Baya is young woman of Algerian and French heritage who has made it her mission to convert politically right-wing sympathizers over to her leftist beliefs. She seduces men into her bed, then plants her political ideals through phrases she whispers while they are making love. She is proud of this “work” and keeps a journal of all the men she has been able to redeem with her unique methods. She is free with her love and her opinions, and fiercely loyal to her family. One day she meets Arthur, a conservative and level-headed scientist with a French-Jewish background. Though he is not right-wing, Baya makes an exception and takes Arthur to bed. Thus begins a beautiful and quirky relationship that we are able to watch as it unfolds. The film is punctuated by narrative from Arthur and Baya’s younger selves, and we learn more about their backgrounds and how being a “half-breed” affected each of them as they grew up.

Overall Entertainment / Enjoyment: A
This was a charming and lighthearted film that somehow still managed to address some fairly weighty issues (racism, politics, sexual abuse, Nazi war crimes) without getting bogged down. The characters were well developed and believable, the use of flashbacks to their childhoods was very well integrated, and I enjoyed the overall storyline.

Film Festivalness: A
Where else but at a film festival would you be able to see a movie about a woman who uses sex to convert the political beliefs of her partners?

Use of Nakedness: A
Many films will flash a breast or two here or give a full-frontal glimpse of a man there just for shock value. Other films will show dramatic nudity in the context of a sexual encounter. This film has one of the best uses of nudity I have ever seen, and it is pure comedy – the flighty Baya at one point gets so distracted by a phone call while she is getting dressed, that she forgets to put on her clothes and heads right out the door in the nude. The scene plays out over the next minute or so, and her self-assured (and oblivious) strut combined with the wide-eyed reactions of fellow pedestrians is hilarious!

Siff Provided Synopsis:
Rising French star Sara Forestier pulls off a comedic tour-de-force in Michel Leclerc’s witty and politically pointed romp of a romantic-comedy. She plays Bahia, an attractive and promiscuous young leftist of mixed Algerian-French descent who seduces right-wingers in order to convert them to her politics (only in France!). However, her magic fails to work on the conservative Arthur (the great Jacques Gamblin), a middle-aged bird-flu expert she meets while jousting with him on a radio show. The son of a French father and a Jewish mother, Arthur is, like Baya, an “outsider” in the increasingly intolerant France of Nicolas Sarkozy. The stage is set for a quirky romance in which Leclerc and his co-screenwriter Baya Kasmi keep the barbed political one-liners and gags flowing (it comes as no surprise to learn that the jokes are not the kind that President Sarkozy would exactly appreciate). Forestier and Gamblin are perfect foils—they play off each other like only consummate actors can, and the effect is both hugely enjoyable and spiked with intelligence to spare.

Provided Film Synopsis

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