Acting with sensations

Anaïs Demoustier on Anaïs In Love, Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet and her Cannes films

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier) with Daniel (Denis Podalydès) in Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s Anaïs In Love (Les Amours d'Anaïs)
Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier) with Daniel (Denis Podalydès) in Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s Anaïs In Love (Les Amours d'Anaïs)

Anaïs Demoustier has been busy recently with Quentin Dupieux’s Incroyable Mais Vrai (with Alain Chabat, Benoît Magimel, Léa Drucker) premiering in Berlin and now in Cannes she has Dupieux’s Fumer Fait Tousser (with Adèle Exarchopoulos, Benoît Poelvoorde, Blanche Gardin, Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Lacoste) and Cédric Jimenez’s Novembre (with Jean Dujardin, Sandrine Kiberlain, Jérémie Renier, Cédric Kahn, Lyna Khoudri) coming up.

Anaïs Demoustier with Anne-Katrin Titze: “I like having to act with sensations and elements of gaze and all of that was something I enjoyed.”
Anaïs Demoustier with Anne-Katrin Titze: “I like having to act with sensations and elements of gaze and all of that was something I enjoyed.”

Flowers, lots of them, in manic speed fill the screen. Anaïs, played by Anaïs Demoustier in a whirlwind performance in Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s Anaïs In Love (Les Amours d'Anaïs) is working on her thesis in literature. Demoustier told me about her work to find the physical intensity of the role and noted that she knew from being in Charline’s Pauline asservie, that the character would be an intersection of the director, herself, and the Pauline character from the short film.

Literature is sprinkled throughout, as backdrop to the main characters’ lives and in references to their affinities. Marguerite Duras is omnipresent. Anaïs Demoustier had played the literary legend on stage in Christophe Honoré’s Nouveau Roman (his tribute to Alain Robbe-Grillet, Samuel Beckett, Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor, Robert Pinget, Duras, among others).

Anaïs’s character’s energy and attitude in Anaïs In Love can be simultaneously admirable and infuriating. When in the bathroom of the apartment of literary agent Daniel (Denis Podalydès) she inspects the perfumes, lipsticks, and trinkets of his temporarily absent wife Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who is a famous writer, the moment resembles the multi-faceted allure from Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Not that the wife is dead here, far from it, it is the fascination with another person’s objects that speak to us.

Anaïs Demoustier on Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet: “There was absolutely no improvisation in the film because Charline’s writing is so precise and so good that there doesn’t need to be.”
Anaïs Demoustier on Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet: “There was absolutely no improvisation in the film because Charline’s writing is so precise and so good that there doesn’t need to be.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

”Don’t take my books!” says Anaïs to the Korean couple (Seong-Young Kim and Estelle Cheon) she sublets her apartment to. She also warns them about the malfunctioning stove, but in such rapid speed and bi-lingually, that her alert goes over their heads. In other words, a lot is going on around Anaïs and Demoustier takes it in stride as much as she can while exploring the many sides in play.

From Paris, Anaïs Demoustier joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Anaïs In Love.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Anaïs, beautiful performance, I loved it! When I spoke with Charline, she told me that there is a lot that is autobiographical, for example her fear of elevators, her claustrophobia. Did you copy your director in certain scenes? Did you mirror her? Tell me a little about the process!

Anaïs Demoustier: Yes, I completely copied my director. I did get a lot from being in proximity with her working on the character. I knew that a lot of it came from her. She and I also had things in common, so that process you talk about was very much at hand. I did have to find a way to appropriate some of the physical intensity which characterizes the character.

The language specifically was a rhythm that I needed to find my way into. The pace of her speech and the pace of her thought, her nonstop sort of thinking, all of this - I had to let go of Charline for a minute and make it mine through a physical approach. But it was very much inspired by Charline’s presence.

Anaïs Demoustier as Marguerite Duras in Christophe Honoré’s play Nouveau Roman
Anaïs Demoustier as Marguerite Duras in Christophe Honoré’s play Nouveau Roman

AKT: One scene in particular is fascinating in regards to the rhythm and the speech and that is when you are talking in two languages to the Korean subletters. And the most important information about the stove, which is “very old, very dangerous” is hidden in the middle of this rapid flow. Were there any lines improvised or was it all exactly scripted as is?

AD: There was absolutely no improvisation in the film because Charline’s writing is so precise and so good that there doesn’t need to be. The scene that you are talking about was the scene that I was most worried about because my way of coming to the scenes that I act is to come to understand what’s driving that. And that scene to me was such an unplayable segment because nobody does that, that’s not a thing that happens. So I was a little bit at a loss, trying to find my way into it at first.

I treated it like a physical part and I learned the text very precisely like you would do with kind of a music score. Like these were the words and these were the movements I needed to execute the sequence of in this way. And it turns out that it works and Charline was very right to go to the end of her desire with that and her vision with the writing of her scene, which turns out to hopefully work and become funny.

AKT: It works really well. Another scene is powerful in a different way and that is when you first discover the objects belonging to Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s character. In the bathroom you look at her trinkets, her perfume. That is such a Hitchcock moment. I am thinking of Rebecca and the fascination with someone who isn’t there. Then of course, the film goes in another direction. Is it difficult for you to act with objects, compared to people?

AD: I really love to act, not with objects necessarily, but in silence. That’s something I take a lot of pleasure in. I like having to act with sensations and elements of gaze and all of that was something I enjoyed. That scene in particular is important because the whole first half of the movie before Emilie and Anaïs actually meet is this first phase of the infatuation in love. There’s this obsession with a sort of phantasy that starts to build and the creation of that phantasy.

Anaïs Demoustier with Alain Chabat and Benoît Magimel in Quentin Dupieux’s Incroyable Mais Vrai
Anaïs Demoustier with Alain Chabat and Benoît Magimel in Quentin Dupieux’s Incroyable Mais Vrai

For Anaïs the character of Emilie first represents things that she is driving for herself. The question of a powerful woman and a woman with literary quality and inclination. All these things she is drawn to and it so happens that when she meets her the whole surprise lies in that not only does Emilie meet her desire but that the attraction shifts from an intellectual desire to a physical one also.

AKT: The character of Anaïs is always in motion, always busy and extremely active and so are you. You have two films in Cannes coming up. And I saw online that you have a film directed by Emmanuelle Devos in pre-production?

AD: The film with Emmanuelle Devos is not something I’m going to be involved with, so it’s a mistake on the Internet. Generally, I don’t know that I’d be hyperactive but I do have a good rhythm of work and I get to do something I really enjoy, which is to move from one cinematic universe to another.

In Cannes now there’s a film with Quentin Dupieux [Fumer Fait Tousser] and another with Cédric Jimenez [Novembre] and they are such different forms of filmmaking. And different from Charline also. I think that one aspect of the work which is really rewarding is to have the ability to find all of the things I look for in these different characters.

Anaïs In Love opens in the US on Friday, April 29
Anaïs In Love opens in the US on Friday, April 29

AKT: Besides herself as role model, did Charline give you any movies, any screwball comedies for instance, to watch in preparation?

AD: No, it’s funny, I didn’t watch anything on her command. I know that she had watched Claude Sautet’s films again for reference of certain things, so I was aware of her cinematic influences. The closest you’d come to that is that we had worked together previously on a short film, Pauline asservie, and we knew that the character would be an intersection of Charline, myself, and the Pauline character from the short film.

The only thing I did have a say on is that when I first read the feature script I asked Charline to emphasize some of the excesses she had drawn with Pauline’s character for the Anaïs character, so that I could have as much pleasure as I did have playing Pauline. That’s something that I did have input on.

AKT: Marguerite Duras looms large over the whole film. Did you reread her for your role?

AD: I didn’t reread Marguerite Duras for this film specifically in part because she is so close to my literary culture anyway. I like her writing. I got to play Marguerite Duras in a play by Christophe Honoré, who is a French director who works in cinema and theater. It was about authors of the Nouveau Roman, and I got to explore Marguerite Duras’s character. So she was already very close to me and I didn’t have to reread her specifically.

AKT: Who was Alain Robbe-Grillet in Christophe Honoré’s production? Do you remember?

AD: Yes, it was Jean-Charles Clichet.

AKT: Thank you Anaïs, great work!

AD: Thank you!

Anaïs In Love opens in the US on April 29.

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