Ladies, gentlemen, and people who identify as transgender, I have wonderful news to tell you: you're going to have so much fun watching The Names of Love. What a great little movie. At any given moment, the movie is filled with humor, personal writing searching for identity, pointed and tongue in cheek political jabs, ambitious and innovative narrative techniques, and perfect imperfections that make it one of a kind to behold.
The woman in the lead role is named Sara Forestier. She's hot, completely naked(!) for a lot of the movie, and she brings so much spirit to the lead role. It's a show-stealing performance to put it mildly. She plays a half Algerian woman named Baya, who always seems to be thinking on her toes. She's as politically active as she is sexually active.
This movie certainly has all of the elements as your run of the mill romantic comedy, but it brings a lot more to the table. We think we know where the story is going in the first 5 minutes, since it has a familiar romantic comedy opening scene, but all of a sudden the film slams on the breaks. We stop just as the battle of the sexes scenes get ready to turn up. What happens next is magical: the two main characters tell us their life stories. We come to know how exactly we got to that very moment in their lives.
Forestier's Baya goes one step further and gives us the life story of her family. Her counterpart Arthur, played by Jacques Gamblin, gives us his life story, but he knows almost nothing about his Jewish family roots, largely because they are shamed and pained with the Holocaust.
Everything that takes place after is pretty story book: the two characters teach each other new things and they help each other grow and mature. However, just enough quirks and unpredictability are thrown in for good measure. The movie is about coming to terms with the past and how family history and the past shape who we are. However, we can't let those things and those stereotypes define us: we can grow and expand out of our comfort zones.
The movie is especially impressive in how it presents internal conflicts. We see the present day Arthur interact with his childhood self. His childhood self even interacts with Baya's childhood self. Its these scenes that ended up resonating with me the most. It felt as though the material in the film was especially sensitive to the director and co-writer Michele Leclerc. It felt like the director had done some personal soul searching with the making of this film. In my opinion the final product was a full on success. I think I felt all of the intended emotions the director was trying to express.
The Names of Love is simply wonderful. It's a joy to behold and watch. A few loving scenes showing Baya out and about are filmed with a special grainy lens that gives the film a vintage and classic look. The cinematography is always nice to admire here. There were some nicely off kilter angles taken in the shots as well as well-choreographed shots that always found seamless ways of transitioning into one another. The best parts of this movie are probably the flaws. The moments when the movie gets too goofy for its own good. The laughs don't always resonate, but at least the filmmakers tried and shot for the stars. Even if a few of the comedy scenes felt stale and like they had been done before, they still contributed to the overall tone. But don't worry, there are some nice laughs in the film. You have to respect a movie that can combine meaty political and identity issues with a genuine and original take on the romantic comedy genre.
This is a must see film because of the passion in the writing and direction and because of the out of this world performance by the gorgeous Sara Forestier. But above all else, it's an imperfect winner that's easy to cozy up to. Not only do I accept the movie for what it is, it made an especially strong impact on me because it was not afraid of simply being itself.