The Names of Love

Sara Forestier, Jacques Gamblin, The Names of Love

Sara Forestier and Jacques Gamblin in The Names of Love

I must have watched a French comedy and put the titles of all the films previewed on my Netflix list, because they keep coming. Bienvenue! This 2010 film (trailer) from France is the latest—a pleasant farce directed by Michel Leclerc and written by him and Baya Kasmi. It won three César Awards in 2011, including for best writing.

The story is about a young woman who uses sex as a weapon to persuade conservative politicians—men whom she considers “right-wing” in general—to embrace more liberal attitudes. From this comes some satirical moments, too, touching on the impermanence of supposed firmly held beliefs and the stereotyping of ethnic and religious groups based simply on how they look or what their names are.

Half-Algerian, the young woman’s name is Baya Benmahmoud, and she says, “no one in France has that name.” But she tackles one person too many when she confronts Arthur Martin—“15,207 people in France have the same name,” he tells us—a middle-aged scientist who does necropsies on dead birds, in order to detect possible human illnesses. Why are you scaring people? she demands to know at their first confrontational meeting.

The free spirit and the buttoned-up scientist are, of course, destined to fall for each other. The filmmakers show us how the two protagonists do not escape their childhoods, and we see them as children, as children commenting on their adult selves, and the fireworks when their polar opposite families, alas, meet.

In his New York Times review, Stephen Holden says the movie “has the tone and structure of early-to-middle Woody Allen, but infused with a dose of Gallic identity politics.” Sara Forestier is charming as the irrepressible extrovert Baya (she also snagged a César), and Jacques Gamblin is a persuasive match. A fun movie when you just want to be happily entertained (note: nudity)

Rotten Tomatoes critics rating 73%; audiences, 79%. gives it 3 stars.