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Movie Review: What’s In a Name?

A successful French play will find itself alongside Man of Steel and The Wolverine as it makes a run in Australian cinemas next month.

Le Prénom (The Name) was created by Alexandre de la Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte as a theatre production in 2010.

Adapted for film, What’s in a Name?, centres on a dinner party hosted by Sorbonne University professor Pierre and his school teacher wife, Elisabeth (affectionately referred to as ‘Babu’).

It begins with narrated snippets sharing insights into the characters and how they are related.

Pierre is the overly argumentative academic who endeavours to get his point across at all costs. He is, however, somewhat lacking when it comes to his fathering commitments. His wife Elisabeth resents that she is made to bear all the family burdens. Yet despite being infuriated by her husband she will jump to defend him.

They are joined by Elisabeth’s long-time friend Claude, who we all suspect is just a little camp, and Elisabeth’s brother, Vincent, who happens to be the catalyst for the night of quarrelling that is to follow.

Vincent is awaiting the arrival of his first child and asks his friends to guess what he and his partner plan to name the baby. Names are thrown around and there’s a fair bit of yelling, but when he finally relents and tells them the name, all hell breaks loose. 

While most of the names suggested are very French and have little context for a non-Francophone, the name divulged is one with which the whole world is familiar. And it imparts very negative connotations.

The argument is fierce and prolonged and when Vincent’s partner Anna finally arrives she is unknowingly dragged into the argument as well. Criticisms fly and one row leads to another.

Long held beliefs and secrets are swept out from under the carpet and the night ends with slamming doors and a bit of bloodshed.

If it wasn’t for the witty jokes to bring some reprieve, the film may have become a little awkward. Rather like walking in on another family’s argument and not being able to leave. 

It’s an understated comedy. There’s no slap stick, just clever one liners and impeccable timing from the actors. 

Considering the movie features almost entirely the same cast who performed the stage play, it’s no wonder they’ve got the execution down pat.

The film still bears the hallmarks of a theatre production with its single story line and being set almost entirely within the one apartment. But thanks to some very clever writing it still holds your attention.

If you’re not a native-speaker you’ll need to be a quick reader to keep up with the subtitles. There’s a lot of dialogue and the French don’t drawl like Aussies do. 

Some of the jokes are lost if you aren’t familiar with French names, but there are enough universal jokes to make it entertaining for an international audience.

What’s in a Name? was released to the French market earlier this year. It will be screened in selected Australian cinemas from July 25. 


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