One essential element of any French movie, and yes, I may be exaggerating, pops out of the movie poster, n'est-ce pas?! Yes, gratuitous, friendly, light hearted nudity. Someone always gets naked in a French movie. And that's fine by me. It's not ever graphic or demeaning or apologetic ... it's as it should be ... normal.
But I get ahead of myself. The premise of this movie is that Baya, the girl, is half French/ half Algerian. She 'looks' French, but does not use that to escape the issue that continues to face immigrants in Europe ... racism. And she uses her looks and a promiscuity born of a sexually abusive experience with the man hired to teach her how to play the piano to entice right-winger 'fascists' as she sees them to her bed. Give her a few days, and she flips them. She takes a tear-down and brings it up to her code of how one should lead their life.
Ah, then she encounters ... Arthur Martin. A quiet man. A veterinarian who studies dead birds for evidence of bird flu. On the surface, he is a fascist, and so Baya targets him. But Arthur is not the man of his name ... and the taboos that his family abhor are the stuff that Baya can really find comfort in ... Martin's mother is a Holocaust survivor and her parents, Greek, were deported and most of his family were murdered during the war. But his life has been such, that he shields himself from anything with a pulse. And Baya, well her pulse is very prominent and on constant display.
The story, oh sure, was interesting ... especially having just returned from Europe and encountering, again, that Europeans really struggle with immigration, so much more so than here in America. The Names of Love (the English title) really struggles with the issue of what makes one a real Frenchman? Baya can pass ... but her name gives away her heritage. Arthur is named and looks French, but isn't wholly. Can Baya and Arthur, both blended, be really French? Who determines that? And who questions this identity most? The government? Or each individual?
Ultimately, they discover each other. And that is most important. Along the way, and I go back to nudity, is farce. Baya is excitable and her ideas are a little ... shall I say, whack?! She muddles herself ... one of my favorite scenes of the movie is when she's in the grocer with Arthur ... they've finally found each other after their first encounter. She runs to the back of the store to get an item, receives a phone call, runs out of the store late for what she had forgotten and forgets to tell Arthur. Once home, she is bombarded by other's demands and runs out of the apartment to the Metro. She sits down on the train across from a Muslim and his burqa'd wife who looks at her incredulously. Only then does she realize that she's forgotten something ... her clothes. She is naked on the Metro. And it is, dare I say, normal.
Farce. Frolic. Just plain Fun. Amidst all of the heavy thought of 'am I French, am I not,' sunlight.