'Love' a comedy with no laughs

Sara Forestier as Baya in Michel Leclerc's The Names of Love.

Sara Forestier as Baya in Michel Leclerc's The Names of Love.

JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:20 PM ET

Meet Arthur Martin. He's a regular guy with a regular name. In The Names Of Love, he's a vet working on animal epidemics and he deals with dead birds, hoping to stay ahead of any deadly global avian flu.

Now meet Baya Benmahmoud, a loose cannon in the world. She bursts into a radio show featuring Arthur Martin to tell him he's scaring people for no reason. His words, she says, make fascists of everyone. First oysters, then cows ... then, what? Immigrants?

But back to Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin). He tells the story of his Jewish mother, as a child during the war, being taken in and hidden by strangers. Later, at university, his mother meets his father. She likes his anglo name, further protection for her hidden Jewish identity. They marry in 1939, says Arthur. He narrates their story, often sharing space with them in the past. Arthur grows up in a house full of silences whenever the Holocaust or war crimes are mentioned, even though it seems all of France is obsessed with such matters.

Then Bahia (Sara Forestier) narrates her family story, starting with her father's childhood in Algeria in 1957. If the entire France vs. Algeria issue weren't enough, Bahia's childhood is marked by the fact that she is molested by her piano teacher. Her response to this is, as an adult, to act the slut, sort of. As she later explains, her philosophy is to sleep with her political opposites and convert them via sex to her way of thinking.

She's also a ditz, so it's not too surprising when she leaves home naked, jumping on the subway without realizing she forgot clothes.

Ha, ha! That's not demeaning.

Are you laughing yet? Maybe we should have mentioned that The Names Of Love is a comedy ...

The inevitable affair between Arthur and Bahia is, one assumes, meant to highlight all the strange xenophobia and general weirdness of the French toward 'others.' It's tough to say just where the comedy can be found in that, but never mind.

There are several scenes in The Names Of Love that may remind you of some of Woody Allen's earlier work, except that this film generally isn't funny. It's more preachy and strident. You could say that the French notion of comedy just doesn't translate well here, but that would be a lie. The Names of Love is a film about identity, and it has a tragic heart.

The Names Of Love is noteworthy for the performance from Sara Forestier, who, as Baya, almost leaps off the screen with her energy. The film is in French, with English subtitles.


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