Playfully provocative and boasting a star-making turn from Sara Forestier, The Names of Love addresses the volatile issue of European assimilation and multiculturalism, but in a tone and tenor full of screwball whimsy.
And so, the specter of the Holocaust and the brutal oppression of Algerians by French colonialists - not to mention the raging debate over Muslim identity - are presented as subjects to make us laugh as well as shed tears. That's a tricky thing to pull off, but director Michel Leclerc and his cowriter, Baya Kasmi, do it deftly, with charm.
Forestier is Baya Benmahmoud, the daughter of a wealthy lefty Frenchwoman and an Algerian immigrant artist. She's a free spirit, she's lovely, and she's a ditz - her inability to focus on one task at a time results in her leaving her apartment sans clothes, blissfully unaware that she's standing on the Metro platform in boots and nothing else. (I know, I know, this is too cute, but hey.)
And then one day she meets Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin). On the face of it, this mild-mannered epidemiologist is the stereotypical stuffy Frenchman, steeped in generations of galling Gallic tradition. But, in fact, Arthur's mother was a Jew, hidden in an orphanage during the war while her parents were carted off to the death camps. He, too, isn't so easy to read, to pigeonhole.