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On Movies: Time to be entertained with 'The Names of Love'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 25, 2011 - If recent events have caused you to forgot that politics can be fun, "The Names of Love" should come as a refreshing reminder. This being a French movie - a very French movie - the politics comes all tangled up in love and sex, not necessarily in that order.

The delightful Sara Forestier won a Cesar award - the French Oscar - for her portrayal of Baya, an ebullient young woman of Algerian ancestry who is on a mission: to convert right-wing men to her radical leftist views by seducing them. She sets her sights on Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin), who turns out to be not quite the right-winger she was looking for - his hero is the Socialist politician Lionel Jospin, who makes a cameo appearance. But otherwise Arthur is about as unlike the bubbly, scatter-brained Baya as he could be, a strait-laced, buttoned-up scientist whose mother is Jewish and whose father served on the French side in the Algerian war.

Baya and Arthur fall in love. After much stalling on Arthur's part, their families, including Baya's Muslim father, get together for a chaotic dinner in which much that had been withheld is revealed.

At times, "The Names of Love" pushes the envelope of believability -- the scene where Baya gets so distracted that she forgets to put on any clothes before she dashes to the Metro may be a tad hard to swallow. On the other hand, the catch phrase "French farce" suggests wild liberation from the rules of reason.

The generally breezy "The Names of Love" unquestionably has its serious and even potentially grim side, since the Holocaust and the French-Algerian war hover in the background. But at heart, "The Names of Love" is a charming, funny, sexy love story. Director Michel Leclerc and screenwriter Baya Kasmi, who based the movie in part on their 10-year romantic relationship, keep the story ambling along at an enjoyable pace, from time to time tossing out a comic epiphany. The themes are familiar - opposites attract; love conquers all - but the delight is in the details.

Opens Friday Aug. 26

'Our Idiot Brother'

There are two ways to interpret the title character in the intermittently amusing "Our Idiot Brother." He is either a bumbling naif, a grown man with a childlike innocence who is simply too good-hearted to realize that his thoughtless actions can damage those who love him. Or he is a classic passive-aggressive whose hippy-dippy exterior conceals a toxic heart and a soul filled with malice.

Presumably director Jesse Peretz intended the former interpretation, particularly since he ends the movie in sweetness and sunlight. But I'm not completely sure. Here are the particulars.

Ned (Paul Rudd) is a bearded organic farmhand whose trusting nature and big mouth are always getting him in trouble, much to the dismay of his three sisters - played by the excellent trio of housewife Emily Mortimer, journalist-on-the-make Elizabeth Banks and lesbian Zooey Deschanel.

When Ned's long-suffering girlfriend boots him off her farm to take up with another field hippie, he re-enters the lives of his sisters. He gets each of them in big trouble by revealing secrets told to him in confidence. And every time he tries to make amends, he makes things worse.

His sisters are furious, but eventually the family comes back together and sibling affection prevails. Indeed, the sisters decide, Ned's inability to keep his mouth shut when his brain contains sensitive information may well, in the long run, have been helpful in resolving tangled situations.

The movie has its entertaining moments, and the cast is first-rate. "Our Idiot Brother" is worth seeing. I'll leave it up to you to decide what it's about - is Ned is a not-very-bright, well-intentioned innocent who is not to blame for the trouble he makes, or is he a malicious conniver who will most assuredly strike again?

Opens Aug. 26

Harper Barnes, the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, is a special contributor to the Beacon.

Harper Barnes
Harper Barnes' most recent book is Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement

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