Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
What’s in a Name: So How was Dinner?
is a question Shakespeare and Asimov asked, in very different contexts. A group
of family and friends will wrestle with it anew during the sort of dinner party
you might find in the work of Yasmina Reza. In fact, the name game hysterics
unleashed by an expectant father also have their roots on the French
stage. After dominating the French box
office, co-writer-co-directors Alexandre de La Patellière & Matthieu
Delaporte's screen adaptation of their play
What’s in a Name (trailer
now opens this Friday in New York.
though it comes fairly early in the first act, you really have to hear for
yourselves what Vincent Larchet plans to name his son. Everybody is rather stunned by the news,
particularly his brother-in-law Pierre Garraud, a popular literature professor
who wears a lot of corduroy. He might be
the most vocal in his disapproval, but Larchet’s sister Elizabeth (a.k.a. “Babu”)
and childhood chum Calude Gatignol are rather taken a back as well. Just as emotions start to settle, Larchet’s
very pregnant yet still compulsively late wife Anna Caravatti arrives to kick
things up again.
Name really is a lot like Carnage, except it has considerably more
warmth (which is admittedly an easy bar to clear). The initial round of bickering is wickedly
funny, even though you have to wonder how any parent could propose doing that
to their child. Of course, the heated
argument duly dislodges other closely held secrets and resentments, making it
quite a dramatic night.
you like talky movies (in the best sense) than Name is where you want to be.
Even in translated subtitles, de La Patellière & Delaporte’s
dialogue is deliciously sharp and punchy.
Featuring most of the original stage cast, the ensemble’s crisp delivery
would pass muster with Howard Hawks and his stop-watch. There are also some rather politically
incorrect moments, particularly with everyone’s assumptions regarding Gatignol,
a suspiciously sensitive trombone player in the Radio France Orchestra.
Fab Five are all quite strong, but Patrick Bruel really puts his stamp on the
film, displaying comedic chops American audiences probably will not expect from
his excellent work in A Secret and O Jerusalem. Even though they all get their quirks,
Charles Berring’s Garraud becomes what passes for an anchor of stability in
this bedlam, yet the newcomer still has some fine moments losing his cool with
Bruel. Frankly, Valérie Benguigui’s
frumpy martyr act as Garraud-Larchet gets a bit tiresome, but Judith El Zein brings
notable grit and verve to bear as the late-coming Caravatti.
Even though Name
is essentially still a five character one set affair, de La Patellière
& Delaporte open it up enough so it does not feel distractingly
claustrophobic. It never drags
either. Infused with attitude yet
ultimately forgiving of all its characters’ shortcomings, What’s in a Name is smart entertainment, recommended for
Francophiles and those who appreciate literate comedy when it opens this Friday
(12/13) in New York at the Cinema Village and will also be available on itunes. (If you're in Ogden the week of 1/17-1/23 and can't get fest tickets, it will also be playing at the Arthouse Cinema 502.)
Labels: French Cinema, Patrick Bruel