They just don’t make romantic movies like this in America.
“The Names of Love” is a French film from 2010 packed with socio-political and sexually liberated messages, subtle humor, superb acting and, of course, an embattled couple at the middle.
To call it a romantic comedy, though, like so many American films that dare include jokes and love, would be a disservice. Rather, “The Names of Love” is a film that captures life, and all the funny, romantic, dark and painful things that come with it.
Directed by Michel Leclerc, the film was released in 2010. It makes its Pittsburgh debut Saturday, April 9, as part of JFilm Festival.
So what about “The Names of Love” is particularly Jewish? We’ll get to that in a moment.
The film follows two vastly different characters as their lives intertwine. Arthur Martin is a painfully plain 40-something; with thousands of Arthur Martins in the country, even his name is plain. His parents are dry and dispassionate, but Arthur longs to uncover his mother’s past — all he knows is that she escaped from the Holocaust.
Bahia Benmahmoud is a perfect foil. She’s young, beautiful, outgoing and has an unscientific way of influencing politics: she believes that by sleeping with right-wing politicians, she’s able to loosen them up and push them to liberalize their politics. Her motto: “Make love, not war.” She was born to a hippie mother and an Algerian, Arab refugee father.
What Arthur and Bahia share in common is a family history of violence and persecution. What they lack in common is, well, everything else.
When the two meet at a radio station, Bahia is immediately interested. She asks Arthur to sleep with her before they’ve finished their first drink. Arthur, not exactly the guy to chase such an out-there girl, is intrigued. So begins a long affair in which we learn the much deeper motivations between Arthur’s inaction and Bahia’s hyper-action.
With a subtle but tight script, “The Names of Love” manages to include moments tackling Arab-Jewish relations, corrupt politicians, racial identity and immigration.
When Bahia sits down to dinner with Arthur’s parents, he instructs her: no mentions of the Holocaust. And so follows a hilarious scene with Bahia accidentally talking about “camps,” and “trains.” An American film would turn the scene into some over-the-top carnival of awkwardness. Here, it seems real. Freudian slips happen to all of us.
Judaism isn’t the focus here, but rather a tool to build the story of these characters, making it a realistic portrayal for many Jews, whose identities aren’t defined, but shaded by their Jewish heritage.
But regardless of religion or background, “The Names of Love” is simply a great film — warm, funny, sad and at times weird. Just like life.
Want to go?
“The Names of Love”
Saturday, April 9, 8:45 p.m.
SouthSide Works Cinema
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)