Written and directed by Michel Leclerc, The Names Of Love is a slightly Woody Allen-eseque French comedy about two individuals who meet by chance one day, Bahia Benmahmoud (Sara Forestier) and Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin), and then fall in love, have an argument, split up, and then may or may not be reunited at the end. So yes, when it comes to the basic plot it is about as conventional as romcoms get.
Luckily the script is a lot more imaginative, which is why this movie is actually worth watching. It fleshes out it’s character to the extent that you really care for them, and while Bahia initially seems to be the epitome of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as she bursts in to Arthur’s life and mocks his beliefs that Bird Flu will kill us all, and then shortly afterwards after going on a date with him she gets distracted, ends up going home, and then leaves her house without any clothes on she quickly becomes a far more realistic character..
Bahia is also the type who rescues crabs from restaurants rather than lobsters, as she can afford to save more of them, and she also has a fairly unusual hobby where she sleeps with people with right wing views and uses sex to convert them from their idiotic beliefs. A lesser writer would have made this character unbearably twee or ridiculously over-sexualized but Leclerc manages to humanise her by the end, using her character and Arthur’s to discuss the nature of identity and how our pasts effect our present and even our futures too.
The reason it’s been compared to Woody Allen’s films is partially due to the witty dialogue, but also because Arthur imagines having conversations with his younger self in scenes which feel directly influenced by Annie Hall, and he also spends a lot questioning his behaviour and choices. Arthur isn’t as neurotic or as self-obsessed as a lot of Allen’s characters are at least which works in the film’s favour as it makes it it’s own beast and not just an inferior clone of Allen’s best films. That said it’s not as good as Allen is when he’s at his best, but then little is, and it is much better than anything he’s created in the past decade for sure.
It probably could have handled a few of it’s ideas a little more carefully, at one point early on Bahia talks about how she was sexually abused as a child and how that led her to believe that she would either turn out to be a paedophile herself or a whore, with her choosing the latter. It’s something which isn’t exactly offensive but a little more thoughtfulness when dealing with a concept like this was definitely needed, especially as it’s the reason why she acts the way she does throughout the film.
Otherwise it’s a solid effort, Leclerc has written a script which contains a lot of smart one liners and funny moments, the nudity doesn’t feel exploitative for once, and both characters are developed so that it feels very real and natural when their relationship starts to go wrong. It’s a shame that structurally it’s quite so conventional, and you won’t win any awards for guessing how it’ll end, but if you’re in the mood for a gentle, relaxing comedy these are characters it’s a pleasure to spend a couple of hours with.