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After surprising many by winning two awards for best original screenplay and best actress at the 36th annual Cesar Awards Ceremony (the French equivalent to the Oscars) this past February, The Names of Love will soon be moving from the French cinema to U.S. screens. In preparation for its June 24th release, critics have already begun extolling this charming film starring Sara Forestier and Jacques Gamblin in this French romantic comedy about falling in love despite your differences.
Arthur Martin (Gamblin), which is coincidentally also the name of a popular French washing machine brand, is a forty-something Jewish scientist who studies dead animals, while Baya Benmahmoud (Forestier) is a young free-spirited half French-half Albanian liberal who sleeps with conservatives to convert them. She boasts an average conversion rate of two weeks, and even shows Arthur her book of conquests, complete with photos and descriptions for each man. There are 15,207 people in France with the name Arthur Martin, and it is the commonness of his name that first inspires Baya to try to convert Arthur to her liberal agenda. Little do they know that neither one is what the other first expected.
While the premise of putting together two opposites who inextricably fall in love anyway has been done many times before, this film adds several unique elements to its 100 minute viewing time. The Names of Love offers social commentary on many events that have been going on in France lately, but with a humorous twist. Immigration from North African nations such as Algeria, Tanzania, and Morocco, has increased the Muslim population in France to approximately 8% (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4385768.stm). Conflict has arisen between some native French and Muslim immigrants and this film uses these conflicts as a springboard to create some very funny and touching moments on-screen.
In addition, the director brings up Arab-Jewish history, as Arthur is Jewish and Baya’s father is a non-practicing Muslim. This is especially prominent in a scene in which Baya meets with Arthur’s family for dinner and Baya unwittingly uses the term “oven” several times when describing her cooking in front of Arthur’s Jewish mother. What makes this scene even funnier is Arthur’s insistence at the beginning of the evening that she mention nothing related to the Holocaust. How hard she tries to follow his instructions and fails anyway results in a hilarious scene of situational comedy.
Harvey Karten on movieweb.com points out, “that given enough time, humor can emerge from tragedy” and this film demonstrates that quite adeptly. Despite the horrible things that have happened because of intolerance and hatred, this film points out that things do not have to stay that way.
While U.S. audiences will most likely miss some of the specifically French humor that is present in the film, themes of love, overcoming differences, and learning to let go and open up are familiar enough to be understood by many different cultures. When heading to the theaters this summer, don’t forget to place The Names of Love on your list of movies to see.
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/7731386@N04/