What's in a Name?

2012 [FRENCH]

Comedy / Drama

IMDb Rating 7.3 10 15312

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by greenylennon 8 / 10

French Carnage

As you sit in front of Le Prénom, you can't help but think how many similarities it shares with Carnage (Polanski, 2011): same middle class context, almost the same setting, but with that French flavour that makes everything much tastier. Vincent is about to become father for the first time, and, during a dinner at his sister's house, he's asked about the name his wife Anna and he want to give their son. This simple, lame question sets off an evening where secrets are revealed, feelings are declared and hypocrisy is unmasked.

I think the movie, built on a very strong and witty screenplay, wouldn't have worked the same if the actors hadn't been so good, with so much remarkable chemistry between them. The cast is directed as if it were a company in a theatre: everyone has to be empathic with the others, in order to make the script work.

Better to watch it in original language, with subtitles: it's worth the risk to miss some of the dialogue.

Reviewed by ElMaruecan82 9 / 10

He said the first name, they didn't say their last word ...

What "Le Prénom" ("The First Name") accomplished was a miracle: it restored my faith on French comedy.

Indeed, just when I thought that they were forever condemned to rely their success on simplistic and childish plots compensated with star-studded cast, or some more or less abuse of that parodist humor mostly inspired from TV, Alexandre de La Patellière's film reminds us that even in our cynical Internet days, it was possible to make people laugh with delightful dialogues and realistic human interactions, with the perfect cocktail of gentleness and cynicism, something I didn't think was possible since "Le Diner de Cons".

And it's true that "Le Prénom" is really the descendant of Francis Veber's masterpiece and not just on its excellent sophistication that never patronizes the spectator. On the form too, there are similarities worth to be noticed: both movies are based on popular plays, "The Birdcage" was another example of successful adaptation from stage to the big screen. The movie perfectly combines a respect of the unity of time, place and plot, with a delightful premise: a friendly dinner in upper-class Parisian house that turns sour when one of the guest revealed the name he decided to give to his future son, shattering instantly the harmony and friendship between a memorable gallery of characters.

Vincent (Patrick Bruel in a very interesting and nuanced performance) is Vincent, the brother of Babou (Elizabeth) played by the late Valerie Benguigi, a modest teacher married to a literature professor, Pierre, played by Charles Berling. Joining them is a meek, effeminate and non-confrontational musician, Claude, played by Guillaume de Tonquédec and Anna (Judith El Zein) as Vincent's pregnant wife, carrying in her womb the roots of the discord. Five characters, that's enough to set-up one of the funniest comedies of the last years. Both Guillaume de Tonquédec and Valérie Ben Guigui won the César for Best Supporting role, and the only bit of sadness conveyed by the film is Benguigui's untimely passing, at the age of 47.

(Indeed, It's impossible not to think of that sad loss for French Cinéma while watching "Le Prénom" and I'm glad she won the César, as a tribute to an immense talent that will be sadly missed. She left Cinema with a poignant and funny performance that will be remembered in the years to come) Now how about that first-name that will ignite the fire of discord and misunderstanding? Although it's very tempting but I won't give it away, out of respect for the screenplay and because one of the first delights is to play that game with Vincent, when he challenges to guess the name he picked for his son. It's not an unknown name, which makes the exercise even more suspenseful and once you know it, you understand why it was so polemical. I wondered for months what was that was mysterious name and how could it provoke a clash, I'm glad I didn't have a clue till the day I saw the film. And yes, they couldn't have come up with a worse name.

But don't worry, the film isn't centered only on the names' subject, it's just a starter to what will turn into something as chaotic as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" where all the guests will have to say what they truly think and get rid of the whole social hypocrisy. And this is one of the aspects that make "Le Prénom" such a great comedy, it's a clever social commentary on the behavior of French elite, and the way their interactions, their speech mannerism or body language betray their political beliefs and their true feelings about so-called friends.

It's a reminder of the way sometimes, conflicts can have a sane effect by luring us to reveal the most sincere part of ourselves, and what more eloquent than the way we name people we love to speak about us. I, myself, am tired with people in my country, who gave their children name that sound foreign because they know that today, having an Arabic name can be a handicap, for me these people are either accomplice of the system, acknowledging the very hate their people inspire, and be part of it, driven by a form of unconscious cowardice. I could relate to a story like that, and I'm sure I can get excitable when it comes to such subjects.

So, behind the funny surface, "Le Prénom" is an extremely intelligent movie and deep in the way it tackles social interactions, much more when they touch family and friendship. There'll always be someone who'll be taken for what he is not and a simple sentence, one too much, can work like a wake-up call. And just when you think, you pointed your finger on someone's flaw, you realize you're not beyond criticism either, and this is the main lesson of "Le Prénom", it's about understanding each other, and respecting both people's choices and opinions, without being too wrapped up in one's egos.

And at the end, the battle of egos turn into a recognition of each one's plea, and what starts like a comedy end like a great lesson about humility. Yet the film doesn't conclude on a serious note, and the ending is the perfect punch line to it. When it ended, I found every bit of the film most satisfying, tasting like a good wine that thankfully never went too sour. And as I said, as an aspiring screenwriter, I wish I could come up with a film half that good. Of course, I could throw some one-liners here and there, but taken out of their context, they wouldn't have the same effect, much more; they might give clues about that infamous name that started all.

So, please, just watch it, if only to discover what is that mysterious name … but be a good movie fans, good sports, and don't cheat.

Reviewed by christophe92300 7 / 10


Mix of Un Air de Famille by Klapisch and Carnage by Polanski, Le Prénom is clearly divided in two parts: the first is pure comedy oriented, whereas the second is more drama focused.

The problem is that those two parts aren't homogeneous: the beginning is very good, dynamic, the dialogues fly, the humour is really present and the viewer is quickly sucked in. Unfortunately, the more the film progresses, the more the comical aspect is left aside, and the more the movie loses interest. The script goes thought bland and uninteresting passages, and we are served a dramatic aspect that isn't the most exciting one, which is disappointing in comparison to the thundering start.

A fifteen minute cut, mostly from the second part, could have also improved the overall rhythm of the movie.

Special mention to the cast who was very good and showed a great chemistry.

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