Sara Forestier, a very cute, young French actress who won her country's equivalent of an Oscar for her performance in this delightfully bawdy comedy, infuses "The Names of Love" with an insouciant sexiness and a total lack of embarrassment.
She doesn't flaunt her body so much as she does not pay attention to it. If a breast pops out of her blouse, which occurs with regularity, it's of no import, and if you want to stare, just go right ahead. As Baya Benmahmoud, a French-Algerian, her body is for more important things, like seducing people whose politics are to the right of hers (which means almost everyone) and using the time in bed to convince them to change their political ways.
Director Michel Leclerc, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baya Kasmi, takes on all sorts of subjects that Hollywood would consider taboo. Benmahmoud's love interest, Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin), is as square as one can imagine. He's a veterinarian who specializes in birds, and he's half-Jewish. He's not observant, but she thinks he should be, and that their relationship is an omen of the way the world will heal its problems.
By the way, Arthur Martin is the brand name of French-made appliances, so there are lots of snickers and questions that American audiences will not appreciate without this advance knowledge (see -- critics are occasionally valuable).
Leclerc understands the effect of Benmahmoud's marvelous attitude, and there's a great scene where she enters the subway in nothing but a pair of boots, waits for a train, enters a car and takes a seat while double-takes flow around her and a pair of observant Muslims don't know which way to look. A dinner party, where Benmahmoud's parents meet Martin's parents shows splendid timing and fine dialogue.
It's an absolutely delightful movie, and perhaps Leclerc has found a way to bring peace (either whirled or otherwise) to our time. Maybe "Make Love, Not War" is ready for another go-round. It may not have worked the first time, but neither has anything else.
The Names of Love opens today at the Plaza Frontenac