Do opposites attract? They do in our September film, The Names of Love

This French film, which we will show on Friday, September 9th, is about a high-spirited young woman, Baya, who might remind you of sixties ideology, especially “Make love, not war.” Though thoroughly liberal through and through, Baya likes sleeping with men of political persuasions opposite from hers, and, while under them—actually I should say while they are under her spell—converting them to her particular view of matters.

Baya, played by a lively ­­­­­­Sara Forestier, is generally successful in converting the right-wing men who share her bed to leftish views. Then she meets Arthur (Jacques Gamblin), a rather resistant target and a Jew. Since his parents lived ­through the Vichy version of the Holocaust, you’d expect Arthur would be leaning left, but no—he’s more apolitical than anything. Mainly he’s staid and “out of it,” as we used to say in the sixties which the film shamelessly evokes. Arthur is a scientist more interested in—brace yourself here—animal communicable diseases. But by the time Baya is through with him, he’s voting socialist.

Improbably but delightfully, the pair fall in love and gradually the meaning of the title emerges. Love is sex, love is politics, love is about opposites. Writer Baya Kasmi and co-writer and director Michel Leclerc craftily pull these themes from the story with commendable believability. Critics like the way such a far-fetched premise goes down. Ryan Wells of Cinespect calls the film “brilliantly uncomfortable.” Wells is relieved that The Names of Love didn’t turn into Amélie” sweetness. He writes: “What’s more arresting is the insertion of personal entrapments that happen to us when we grow up (i.e. non-societal or political). They’re unfortunate and sad but they’re so on point that, looked at from another angle, is so perfectly fitting for the adults they become and the mindsets they adopt: it’s what binds them. And this binding is funny as hell and Leclerc and Kasmi are clever enough to spot these in French society [with a] style inclusive enough to admit all manner of coupling.”

The Names of Love is much broader in scope than just the union of an oddly-matched couple. Arthur’s parents are a show unto themselves. They meet at an anti-Pinochet event and because it was chic at the time, long to marry nonFrench. The Names of Love delves into a diverse variety of topics: immigration, anti-semitism, the nature of national identity after WWII, fear of foreigners, and bigotry. Somehow Leclerc and Kasmi successfully swing back and forth between the romance of Baya and Arthur and this succession of Gallic concerns, without depersonalizing Baya and Arthur. It’s a rich film.

Several critics have compared The Names of Love to Annie Hall  in its breadth. In fact, Leclerc has named Woody Allen as the filmmaker who most inspired him. Mellisa Anderson, writing for the Village Voice, claims that “Technically, Baya is a whore, but a whore with a grander more positive purpose; whose body is used as a weapon of mass destruction.”

Anderson looks deeper. She equates the story to a kind of growing up, both “unfortunate and sad,” but also right on target and “perfectly fitting for adults. Looked at from another angle, [the relationship is] so…fitting for the adults they become and the mindsets they adopt: it’s what binds them. And this binding is funny as hell … Leclerc and Kasmi are clever enough to spot these types that represent such a wide swath of French society and shave it down to this tiny, odd pairing.”