The Names of Love
Existentialism through Convolution
Starring: Sara Forestier, Jacques Gamblin
Review by Robert Patrick
“The Names of Love” is what happens with kinetic imagery plays kick the can with dull dialogue. The first half is like a live wire of protein laced thoughts, energized and manipulated to auteur like form, the second half is as boring as listening to talk show radio with the volume down. Michele Leclerc’s lukewarm balancing act would get the director booted from the circus, if we’re to use such a metaphor. But the film isn’t without merit, and it’s hard to shirk the intentions of it altogether, even if the script is in need of some fat-trimming. The actors – Sara Forestier and Jacques Gamblin – are great in their roles, regardless of their parts becoming what seem like life rafts floating on tepid waters. There is so much to endorse in Leclerc’s film, especially if you enjoy the whimsical and candied offerings of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, that it’s almost easy to overlook particular shortcomings. There are also notes of Jiri Menzel’s “I Served the King of England,” even though the aforementioned film is miles ahead of Leclerc’s messy plating in “The Names of Love.”
The movie at its base is about two different individuals, Baya (Forestier) and Martin (Gamblin), who meet, fall in infatuation, and spin the bottle with their emotions. When Baya wants something, she plants her proverbial flag into it, as if she decided to bring back Manifest Destiny. She is fiery with her thoughts, loose on inhibition, admittedly manipulative and without reservation. Baya is surprisingly carefree, despite her barbed attitude toward left-winged individuals, because she knows that she can mold them like a bowl of malleable dough. Martin, not surprisingly, is the antithesis of Baya’s confident personality; he is terse, unsure, buckled tightly to the idea professionalism and work. The odd couple device is set into play, sadly, and the unoriginal subject matter stutters like a needle that has seen its last day on a turntable. The story is contrived, unimportant, decidedly unimpressive.
Because “The Names of Love” is sans wit, it’s up to Leclerc’s visual prowess to bail water out of his sinking ship. Leclerc manages to provide an interesting, flashy, visceral first half of the film. The second half of the movie dumps any aesthetic flair like unneeded ballast, making the viewer deal, eyelids half-mast, with a movie whose new goal is to underwhelm instead of inspire. If we could make “The Names of Love” into a thirty-minute short, the director would prevail, but here, in a world that finds itself confused and tied to uncertainty, the movie lacks an overall pallor. There are also gratuitous scenes of nudity, provided by Sara Forestier, that serve as pointless reminders that she is spirited and freewheeling. Why the director couldn’t provide this information without having the central character go unknowingly nude on a subway is beyond me. Forestier’s acting, however, is a sizable effort that is reminiscent of Asia Argento’s most recent performances. Sadly, because the movie looks like it was directed by two different authors, each uncertain of what the other wants, the bumps in the presentation are too prevalent to ignore.