The Names of Love
Directed by Michel Leclerc
The message of The Names of Love is "fuck your roots," a moral that seems increasingly naïve and close-minded the more one reflects on it. Here is a film about discrimination where the prescription is not to welcome difference but to ignore it; the film labors under the impression that it's edgy and honest, but it never stops seeing its characters in the same ethnic and religious stereotypes it urges us to break free of.
Something worthwhile could be made from this viewpoint, but probably as an acidic black comedy. Instead, Names has a tone and style that are less homage to Annie Hall than a blatant rip-off (Leclerc says he's "been trying desperately to be inspired" by Woody Allen). Characters narrate copiously and interact with flashbacks, but where Allen knew the limit of what light-hearted comedy could tackle, Leclerc winds up with sequences of astonishingly poor taste.
Consider a dinner scene between our modest hero—who hides his Jewish upbringing behind a persona picked for maximum forgetability—and his bohemian Arab girlfriend. His understandably touchy mother's were killed at Auschwitz, a fact he warns his girlfriend not to bring up. But then she, in her nervousness, can't stop talking about (summer) camps and (cooking) ovens. Whoops!
The girlfriend is played by Sara Forestier, who is engaging enough within the increasingly tedious archetypal role of the beautiful woman who throws herself at middle-aged men not unlike writer-director-star Michel Leclerc. Half her jokes involve boobs that won't stay clothed or her absentmindedly walking around the street naked, signs the film's gender progressiveness is matched only by its racial insight.
The story concerns the pair's contrived May-December romance and his supposed square-ness: he's insecure over her hobby of fucking right-wingers to convert them to her side (through subliminal messages as they approach orgasm). Setting the fact that some puritans may find this a not unreasonable thing to get miffed about, isn't this method ineffective compared to, say, exchanging sex for votes on election day or sabotaging your opponent's campaigns with directed sex scandals (though I'm willing to be convinced, ladies)? If nothing else Forestier's disinterest in liberals is the best argument I've yet heard for a turn to the right. Forestier gives Names some charm, but the inadvertent case it makes for conservatism means something has gone terribly wrong along the way.
Opens June 24