The beguiling Baya Benmahmoud sees the world through fascist-covered glasses.
Baya, the main character in the new French comedy ‘The Names of Love,’ is obsessed with her far-left politics. How obsessed? She uses her feminine wiles, and they are considerable, to change the hearts and minds of those who dare to believe in right-of-center politics.
If ‘The Names of Love’ sounds like yet another liberal treatise from the film industry, think again. Not only is Baya, glowingly portrayed by Sara Forestier, hardly one to be admired, but the film itself is so overstuffed with ripe comedic elements that any political grandstanding goes down like tapioca pudding.
Peel back the bald political content and you’ll see a damaged woman attempting to find love with a man who examines dead birds for a living. When was the last time Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston tried that in a rom-com?
‘Love,’ now showing at the Chez Artiste in Denver and available on DVD, follows the free-spirited Baya as she tries to change France’s political tide one voter at a time. She’s a self-described “political whore” who targets, beds and converts so-called fascists to her ideological side.
She’s so caught up in her ideological world view she leaves the house one busy day without her clothes. The rest of the time her barely there dresses are one shrug away from a Janet Jackson-type reveal.
But she’s not aiming to change a heart or a mind when she meets Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin), a middle-aged bird expert as buttoned down as Baya is uninhibited. The two almost don’t hook up at all. She offers him casual sex, but he declines so he can examine the body of a diseased bird before traces of the illness deteriorate beyond measure.
Fate reunites them, and while the pair have nothing in common save politics, they can’t stand to be apart for long. But can their distinct personalities pave the way for a happily ever after ending?
Baya’s sexual games aren’t readily apparent through the film’s first few sequences. Director/co-writer Michel Leclerc is too busy sketching in the characters’ back stories in madly inventive fashion. We see young Arthur growing up in a family where taboo subjects remain off the table – permanently. Sometimes the adult Arthur stands side by side with his younger self in order to better describe his formative years. Baya’s background is more tragic – her piano teacher sexually assaulted her as a little girl, leaving her libido in permanent overdrive.
It’s that rare film, a comedy no less, that treats child molestation seriously.
Baya may rail against all things Right, but ‘Love’ makes her the subject of intense ridicule. She cares so much about the suffering of others she buys up a gaggle of crabs from a sidewalk vendor so she can set them free in the nearest body of water. When Arthur calmly tells her that not every conservative is a monster and some liberals are wicked, she casts such thoughts away like a toddler dismissing a healthy snack. And when you see her character’s mother turn an innocent dessert experience into verbal warfare it’s clear where she developed her hyper sensitivities to anything that doesn’t fall in perfect line with her world view.
Her character remains adorable all the while, thanks to the irrepressible spirit given to her by Forestier.
Strip away ‘Loves” political content, identity politics and family tragedies, and you’re left with a supple love story of why opposites so often attract.
‘The Names of Love’ may remind some of a Woody Allen farce, including two dating sequences involving cooked crustaceans. But nothing in Allen’s recent body of work is as challenging, bold and briskly comic as this French import.