WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Vincent (Patrick Bruel), a successful forty-something real estate agent, is about to become a father for the first time. He is invited for dinner at the apartment of his sister, Élisabeth (Valérie Benguigui), and brother in-law, Pierre (Charles Berling) where he catches up with his childhood friend, Claude (Guillaume de Tonquédec). Whilst waiting for Anna (Judith El Zein), his younger spouse Anna (Judith El Zein) who is always running late, his cohorts gleefully bombard him with questions on his fast approaching fatherhood ... but when his hosts ask Vincent what name he has chosen for his future offspring, his response plunges the family into chaos.
Review by Louise Keller:
A little joke becomes the catalyst for the unravelling of relationships in this jocular French comedy in which egos, political beliefs, sexual orientations and trusts are thrust like daggers. While the theatrical origins of Matthieu Delaporte screenplay are obvious, the use of words and concepts work a treat as each member of the group gathered for a Moroccan banquet meal at home find their own discomfort as the revelations keep coming. It's clever and funny with twists that you never see coming, but I did tire somewhat of the constant high-pitched dialogue that eventually feels like non-stop shouting.
In an attention grabbing prologue that is reminiscent of the mood generated in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's fabulous 2001 Amélie, we meet the characters with whom we are about to spend the next two hours. There's a constant sense of motion as we are bombarded with much information, of which only snippets remain, giving us an impression of the main players. There's Pierre (Charles Berling), the flamboyant left-wing professor with high self-esteem; his teacher wife Élisabeth (Valérie Benguigui) who is bogged down with the drudgery of everyday life; her best friend Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec), the stylish, sensitive trombone player; Elisabeth's brother Vincent successful man-about-town (Patrick Bruel) and his newly pregnant wife Anna (Judith El Zein) who smokes to relieve prenatal stress.
There are books strewn everywhere in Pierre and Elisabeth's Paris apartment, forming an atmospheric backdrop in which the action takes place. Vincent's poor taste joke comes about when asked what name has he chosen for his not-yet-born son. Initial disbelief turns to dismay and argumentative discussion before things become personal. Suddenly the tables are turned and each person in turn finds themselves uncomfortably vulnerable under the glare of the spotlight. As one person comments, everyone has chunks of hidden life and secrets and even though these are people who know each other intimately, there are surprising discoveries.
The performances are superb and while I love the concept and the way the story's weight shifts, I found each story strand is stretched a little too far and long. Had the screenplay been clipped and tightened, Delaporte's film (co-directed with his writing partner Alexandre de La Patellière) might have hit its target with greater force and tenacity. It is nonetheless an entertaining soujourn, the piece de resistance belonging to de Tonquedec, whose revelations have the greatest impact and resonance.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
No less compelling and engaging than a bruising and bloody 15 round heavy weight fight, What's In A Name (nominated for the Best Film Cesar) is a comedy but only if you like blood sports. A screenplay that positively bristles with ... well, bristles, it's as savage as Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf or Carnage, resembling both in its claustro-setting of an apartment which serves as the pressure cooker for a verbal slanging match from hell. (Mixed metaphors used for effect, sorry.)
The catalyst is Vincent (nominated for the Best Actor Cesar, Patrick Bruel), an energetic and happy go lucky guy whose charm has earned him a decent living in Paris real estate. No shrinking violet, he loves games and he begins this particular evening with a jive that leads to a collision like a multi car pile up on a freeway. The vehicles are his best friends and his pregnant wife.
The screenplay (nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Cesar) is mathematically precise in its detailed, blow by blow progress, never predictable, always explosive, sometimes caustic and destructive. But within the confines of solid friendships, all the characters know how far they can go ... and yet they overstep the mark every time.
Bruel's Vincent is the central driver of the action, and he's in top form, swinging from bravado and confidence to sullen silence. His long suffering teacher sister, Élisabeth, is played with explosive ferocity by Valérie Benguigui (she won the Best Supporting Actress Cesar), and his brother in-law, a caustic academic, Pierre by the wonderful Charles Berling. But the film's secret weapon, left in the armoury until the third act, is Guillaume de Tonquédec as Claude, Vincent's life-long friend, a trombone player in the Paris Orchestra. He won the Best Supporting Actor Cesar.
Arriving late as she often does, Anna (Judith El Zein) brings a payload of her own, and the evening spirals into angry and bitter confrontations as secrets are revealed and egos are tuned to mush.
The screenplay is astute and incisive in its veracity, which is the crucial ingredient to make all this work. While there are emotional brutalities committed against each other, the underlying truths revolve around the question of how well we know each other. The most intimate relationships are filled with secrets and the seemingly least important issues can go nuclear in this context.
My only reservation is about the film's wordy and unnecessarily long set up (after its stylish opening credits), in which we are told - by narration - about the key characters and their relationship to each other. Not only would the film benefit from the tighter structure and shorter running time, but it would also escalate the dynamics of the film if we just got straight into the story.
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WHAT'S IN A NAME? (M)
CAST: Patrick Bruel, Valérie Benguigui, Charles Berling, Guillaume de[BREAK]Tonquedec, Judith El Zein
PRODUCER: Dimitri Rassam, Jérôme Seydoux
DIRECTOR: Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere
SCRIPT: Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere (play by Delaporte)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Ungaro
EDITOR: Célia Lafitedupont
MUSIC: Jérôme Rebotier
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Marie Cheminal
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 25, 2013