Monday, June 20, 2011

"The Names Of Love" - Movie Review

This weekend, my movie class held a bonus screening of a French romantic comedy called  “The Names Of Love” . 


When a middle aged man meets a free-spirited young woman about half his age, they begin an improbable romance – but when things seem to get serious, will a personal tragedy end the relationship?


At the age of 47, scientist Arthur Martin is resolved to spending his life as a bachelor.  Awkward and nervous around women – and even more so if they’re attractive – he’s never had much success with romance.  Arthur is as nondescript as his name would imply and believes he has nothing much to offer a woman – as a result, he decides to devote himself to his career as a scientist and winds up never having any kind of social life.  That all comes to an abrupt halt, however, when he has a chance meeting with Baya, a young woman in her 20’s, who is an exotic Algerian beauty that is the embodiment of a free-spirit. 

Lacking a true career path of her own, Baya has a rather unique obsession – raised in a very left-wing environment, she becomes a promiscuous adult who dedicates her life to seducing right-wing men and converting their political philosophy to her own.  A true believer in the old hippy platitude of “Make love, not war”, her political ideals prevent her from even considering bedding someone with her own beliefs because there’s no challenge and no true seduction.  Based on this, her attraction to Arthur almost makes sense because of the fact that he’s so staid, conservative and cautious that he’s boring; given that opposites sometimes attract, he, in turn, is entranced by her scatterbrained, unpredictable nature. 

Eventually, Arthur takes a big chance and throws a dinner party where he introduces his strait-laced parents to his wild and crazy girlfriend.  Fearful that Baya may say something inappropriate that could cause the evening to go awry, Arthur coaches her on what to say and – more to the point – not say around his mother and father.  Ultimately, however, Baya touches on a deeply personal matter of Arthur’s mother’s background and shortly thereafter, the mother winds up hospitalized and depressed.  Following a tragic episode that results from her hospitalization, Arthur blames Baya for the outcome and breaks up with her – but can the two lovers somehow be reunited if Arthur can overcome his grief? 


Leave it to the French to take what ostensibly would be a nice, sweet romantic comedy and almost completely drain it of its romance and comedy.  Yet that’s what seemed that co-writer and director Michel Leclerc was intent on doing with this movie.  Viewing “The Names Of Love”, you would either characterize it as “Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’ with a French twist” or “a French rip-off of Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’”, depending on whether you loved it or loathed it.  Scene for scene, there are so many comparisons to Allen’s Academy Award winning classic that it’s no wonder that one of the characters even references the filmmaker at one point in the movie. 

Traditional romantic comedies don’t typically include heavy political themes, The Holocaust, nuclear power, racism or pedophilia, yet “The Names Of Love” touches on each and every one of these topics – in fact, not only touches on them, but makes them key components in the telling of the story as well.  Make no mistake about it, this is a tough, complex and challenging film to watch – not a description most filmmakers would want to hear if they’ve made something that they’re trying to market as a romantic comedy, but that’s exactly how I would describe the experience of viewing this movie. 

The overwhelming majority of the class enjoyed this film, including and especially our instructor.  That said, however, we could all agree that this film will have a tough time finding success in the United States, even if it gets glowing reviews.  Why?  Well, it’s so French that most American audiences would find it tough going to understand much of the political references, unless you are deeply entrenched in the Gallic culture.  According to our instructor, this film was hugely successful in France and was chosen to open The Cannes Film Festival.  Is there anything I could possibly recommend about this movie?  Yes.  The young actress who plays Baya is gorgeous and she spends a significant amount of the film stark-raving naked.  Lovers of retro-bush will exalt her appearance. 

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