Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to turn that right-wing left: Michel Leclerc/Baya Kasmi's THE NAMES OF LOVE

Looking for a movie that's quintessentially French? One that could not have come from any other country and reflects in a nutshell why you love French film? Yeah, TM is speaking for himself here, but he wagers there are plenty more of you where he comes from. And this Friday, we're all getting served. Co-writer (with Baya Kasmi) and director Michel Leclerc's new movie, THE NAMES OF LOVE (Le nom des gens), is smart, saucy and bouncy -- with an equal interest in philosophy, politics, sex, family, friends and food -- literally everything that makes life worth living, right? I want to see it again, immediately.

The film opens with a fast, funny, visual and verbal riff on names (the movie's original French title translates simply as "People's Names"). From there it expands into all those subjects mentioned in the paragraph above, while introducing us to our leading characters: an older man, Arthur, whose job is doing forensic pathology on wildlife (an absolutely terrific Jacques Gamblin, shown above with dead swan, who was last seen here in Inspector Bellamy) and a younger woman, Bahia, who's in the process of finding herself and who possesses a very interesting technique to convert right-wing fellows toward the left. Bahia is played by the beautiful and talented actress Sara Forestier (of Wild Grass, Perfume and A Few Days in September, but whom some of us will remember most fondly from the César-stealing Games of Love and Chance.)

Ms Forestier, shown above, walked away with this year's César award for Best Actress of France -- and she is a delight. Comedic but with a nice edge, she's also alternately gorgeous, blowsy, sweet, sad -- and nude.  In fact, her nude scene's a hoot. Try, if you can, to imagine any Hollywood actress getting away with this -- and making it such genuine fun in the process.

Bahia is of French Algerian ancestry, which is of course France's big immigration bug-a-boo -- just as ours is/was slavery and what to do with those "immigrants" we forced into it. More currently we're figuring out what to do with our influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants. One of my favorite lines in the film is uttered by Bahia: “Only foreigners deserve to be French.” Substitute “American” for French in that declaration and you just might have a new motto for our country! 

M. Leclerc, pictured at right, with only his second full-length film behind him, has found a way to give us some new ideas and ways to look at things packaged in a bright, intelligent romantic comedy just different enough to seem, well, original. And it may indeed be; I can't quite compare it to much else that has come before -- not where its mix of politics, philosophy and pleasures are concerned. Leclerc and Kasmi bounce so many funny, smart and telling concepts off  us viewers that keeping up with them is a delightful experience. For every notion or joke that doesn't work, there are plenty more that do.

Besides providing literate, adult audiences with that increasingly rare example of a rom-com with ideas, the film should also jump-start Forestier’s career here and give a great second wind to Gamblin’s. What a pair they make, and what a fearlessly funny movie this is!

The Names of Love, from Music Box Films, opens Friday, June 24, in New York at NYC's Sunshine Cinema and the Paris Theater and in California at theaters in L.A., Irvine, Encino and Pasadena. Click here for further playdates -- more of which are promised as word-of-mouth on this delightful bauble begins to build.

No comments: