Culture Clash Fail in The Names of Love

Nothing screams “French crossover comedy” like jokes about Auschwitz and childhood sexual abuse, the main rib-ticklers of Michel Leclerc’s blood-clot-inducing second feature. Co-written with Baya Kasmi, Leclerc’s partner for the past decade, and apparently inspired by their own culture-clash meet-cute, The Names of Love traces the bumptious courtship between reserved middle-aged veterinarian Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin), whose maternal grandparents were killed in the camps, and 20-ish boundary-breaker Baya Benmahmoud (Sara Forestier), the offspring of a radicalized blue-blooded Parisian mother and an Algerian-refugee father. Being molested by her piano teacher as a child has made Baya a “political whore,” bedding right-wingers to convert them to vaguely defined leftist causes, which conveniently affords us lots of peeks at Forestier’s boobs and bush. The backstories of the couple are presented through a series of cloying devices: direct address, flashbacks, younger versions of the protagonists talking to his or her adult self—all in service to the message that anti-Semitism and racism are bad. But the pathetic attempts at outré, taboo-busting humor as sociopolitical commentary can’t disguise what this film really is: a mawkish, MOR comedy of manners that even its straw man Nicolas Sarkozy would find suitable for date night.

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