Clearly influenced by playwright Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, What’s in a Name depicts a dinner party among alleged French intellectuals that descends into bitter conflict. Biting and perceptive, if at times over the top, What’s In a Name cleverly skewers French middle class pretensions.
The film stars Charles Berling and Valerie Benguigi as Pierre and Elisabeth, a highly educated Parisian couple who pride themselves on their informed, literate left-wing values. Their home is a monument to French intellectual culture with the works of renaissance writers like Rabelais and Montaign filling bookcases and much of the floor space. Hosting a dinner party for old friends: Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec) a jovial, jowly classical musician, Elizabeth’s arrogant playboy brother and Pierre’s boyhood rival, Patrick (Paris Manhattan’s Patrick Bruel) and Anna, Vincent’s (Judith El Zein) pregnant, chain-smoking girlfriend, they think they’re in for a sophisticated evening of stimulating conversation and Moroccan cuisine. Unfortunately, ill-conceived jokes about their children’s names and startling revelations about past indiscretions and secret relationships trigger furious arguments and expose the seething contempt the group secretly harbour for each other. Pierre, the supposedly respected intellectual is savaged by Elisabeth for being a dogmatic bully and an elitist buffoon, Vincent is attacked by everyone for being an egotistical oaf while Claude is berated for his insipid manner.
Based on a play by the film’s writer and co-director Mathieu Delaporte, What’s In a Name clearly shows its stage roots with most of the action taking place in one room. In some films the stagey setting can be distracting and restrictive but with the superbly crafted dialogue pinging back and forth between the warring friends in this film, we hardly notice the limitations of the location. The exchanges between the group members are sometimes playful and flirtatious but most are blistering and bile-laden attacks. Consequently, What’s in a Name rivals Before Midnight for the best written film arguments of 2013.
As is sadly the case in many films, though, the third act introduces some unbelievable plot twists which seem completely at odds with the tone of the film up to that point. Fortunately, the film recovers its focus and these plot shifts don’t sink the film.
What’s in a Name is an intelligent, confronting at times painfully funny film which will delight those still fascinated by clever and insightful dialogue rather than expensive spectacle.
Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.
Director(s): Alexandre de La Patellière, Matthieu Delaporte
Release date: 25th July 2013
Running time: 109 mins.
- Film review: FLY ME TO THE MOON, from Built For Speed
- Film review: PERFECT STRANGERS, from ‘Built For Speed’
- Film review: BEFORE MIDNIGHT, from Built For Speed
- Film review: FRANCES HA, from Built For Speed
- Film review: RENOIR, from Built For Speed