Movie Review: Romance among the French in “The Names of Love”

The rules of screen romance don’t change much, from country to country, culture to culture. The cinematic language of love is universal.

Thus the French romance “The Names of Love” plays with conventions that American filmgoers will find familiar and fun. He (Jacques Gamblin) is a scientist who investigates bird deaths, warning the public of the next avian flu outbreak. He’s a French fuddy duddy.

She (Sara Forestier) is a manic, seemingly dizzy free spirit, free with her body, a sensualist and a leftist who figures she can sexually convert any “fascist” she brings to her bed. She calls lots of guys fascists.

In the parlance of Hollywood, they “meet cute.” He is on a radio call-in show, warning of bird deaths that lead to human viral outbreaks. She is working the phones, bursts into the studio and curses him out for scaring people.

Each one talks directly to the camera, from time to time, explaining himself or herself. They tell the stories of their parents  — his were Holocaust survivors, and he cannot even imagine what his father looked like as a young man in his flashbacks. Hers were an Algerian massacre survivor and a hippy blonde.

He laments that his name, Arthur Martin, is also the brand of kitchenware that every Frenchman knows.  She laments the politics of the nation.

“Only foreigners really deserve to be French.”

She gets so worked up after they meet that she puts off her “sex on the first date” rule and goes shopping. She gets distracted, dashes home to pick up something she forgot, gets more distracted and dashes back outside without a stitch of clothing on.

There’s a taste of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Something Wild”  “Forces of Nature” and even “Bringing Up Baby,” perhaps the best of the wild child-seduces-straight arrow romances. The leads are charmingly mismatched, but adorable enough to root for, as a couple. Forestier is a wildly uninhibited actress, sexy as all get out. She makes this girl dangerous, seemingly capable of anything. And the obstacles co-writer/director Michel LeClerc puts in front of them are unusual enough to hold our interest and make us root for them.

“The Names of Love,” in French with English subtitles, opens Friday at The Enzian.

MPAA Rating: R, for sexual content including graphic nudity and some language (profanity).

Cast: Sara Forestier, Jaques Gamblin

Credits: Directed by Michel Leclerc, co-written by Baya Kasmi. A Music Box Films release.
Running time:  1:40

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