Monday, August 8, 2011

The Names of Love

Michael Leclerc’s The Names of Love is so French—in its sexuality, its politics and its mixture of the two—and so much an allegory for the current state of French society, that one wonders how it was ever released in the United States. Perhaps it’s Sara Forestier’s charming and unrestrained performance that was the selling point to distributors. Forestier’s Baya is a disinhibiting force and an unsettling presence, not only because she tries to use sex as an anodyne for fascism, but because she churns up things that people don’t want to think about, such as how appearances hide reality. In the case of French society, this translates into an ideological diatribe about how a veneer of complacent infatuation with the idea of being French hides a mélange of past conflict. Both Baya and the man she falls in love with, Arthur Williams (Jacques Gamblin), who is named after a popular appliance, are products of traumatic pasts. Arthur’s grandparents died in Auschwitz, but his parents never talk about it, channeling all their energy into buying new gadgets that become instant anachronisms. Baya’s parents, paragons of radical values, are no more liberated, maintaining a code of silence about the sexual abuse Baya suffered at the hands of a piano instructor. The film ends in 2007, with Sarkozy’s triumph over the socialist candidate Ségolène Royal and the birth of Arthur and Baya’s baby, Chang. The film was obviously made before the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, but it would be interesting to see if and how Leclerc would have worked it into a plot in which the former French Prime Minister and socialist presidential candidate, Lionel Jospin, has a cameo role.

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