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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The French Still Make Exceptional Films

A very hot and humid Washington day drove me to two movies last week and both shared some traits. The Names of Love and Sarah's Key are both French and both see their lead female character visiting The Shoah Memorial in Paris. Engraved on the walls there are the names of 76,000 Jews, including 11,000 children all deported from France as part of the Nazi plan to annihilate the Jews. Although The Names of Love is a comedy - and an exceptional one at that - the moment is not taken lightly. And in Sarah's Key, the writer and director do a great job of moving back and forth between past and present. This scenario of watching characters from the present trying to discern what happened in the past - and then seeing for ourselves what really happened - has become a more common tool of late, but that does not mean it is easy to pull off. Tom Stoppard, of course, pulled it off the most successfully with Arcadia, and I wonder if he ever considered turning that into a film. (I should have asked him when I ran into him on a smoke break he was having at Penn Station in New York a couple years ago.  As it was, I was tongue-tied. Anyway, The Names of Love chronicles a relationship between a young liberal activist - she sleeps with conservatives to convert them - and a middle-aged scientist who deals with dead animals. It has some very clever conceits that can be credited to the husband and wife screenwriters. In fact, she shares the same first name as the lead character - Baya.  You cannot go wrong seeing either of these films, just depends on the mood you're in.  A woman behind me at Sarah's Key said the book was better so you may want to read it first.

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