The Names of Love is a fresh romantic comedy that demonstrates the French affinity for mixing genres. According to the introduction, there are 15,207 people in France named Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin, Inspector Bellamy), but only one Bahia Benmahmoud (Sara Forestier). As uninhibited as its heroine, this film is full of clever surprises. The constantly entertaining romance between Arthur and Bahia mixes with the issues of multiculturalism and identity in contemporary France. The after-effects of the Holocaust and the Algerian War on modern French families are subjects also addressed, but sensitively and with warmth. Both the screenplay (co-written by director Michel Leclerc) and Sara Forestier's performance received Césars (the French Oscars). Given time for word of mouth to build Music Box Films, which released the Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc.), may have another potential arthouse favorite on its hands.
Arthur is an expert on animal diseases. The couple meets-cute when Bahia storms into a radio station to interrupt Arthur's on-air discussion of bird flu. Bahia is a very free spirit who literally follows the slogan "make love not war" to convert right-wing men to her liberal point of view. She remains unconcerned when her blouse dips down, revealing her breast. After a hilarious sequence, she finally gets upset with herself after a more extensive and inadvertent exposure because she "can't multi-task."
Forestier's performance effectively combines emotional intensity with comic flair. She has good screen chemistry with Gamblin as the older and more reserved Arthur. Leclerc said the screenwriters liked having a very serious character with no sense of humor in this comedy.
Though very different, Arthur and Bahia are drawn to each other. Both share a mixed parentage. Her father (Zinedine Soualem) is Algerian; her mother (Carole Franck) was a rich hippy. Arthur's Jewish mother (Michele Moretti) has kept secret her family's experience during the Holocaust, despite Arthur's probing. Arthur, Bahia and their families are explored through flashbacks and inventive cinematic touches, as when Arthur has an argument with his younger self. Arthur narrates scenes of his ultra-French father's early life, very funny since he can't imagine his father (Jacques Boudet) as a child.
As director, Leclerc, who said he was inspired by Woody Allen, keeps his film moving at a lively pace. To the romantic complications of Bahia and Arthur, he skillfully adds more weighty issues like Arthur's mother's painful past. The screenplay reflects his belief that "In France, the question of origin is complicated and obsessive." Leclerc and his actors create distinctive characterizations of two very dissimilar modern French families.
Distributor: Music Box Films
Cast: Jacques Gamblin, Sara Forestier, Zinedine Soualem, Carole Franck, Jacques Boudet
Director: Michel Leclerc
Screenwriters: Baya Kasmi, Michel Leclerc
Producers: Caroline Adrian, Fabrice Goldstein, Antoine Rein
Genre: Comedy; French-language, subtitled
Running Time: 104 min.
Release Date: June 24 ltd.