Whirlwind world of Anaïs Demoustier

Now actress takes on new role - as Camera d’Or president

by Richard Mowe

Anaïs Demoustier, President of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival Caméra d'or jury who bestow the award on one of the debut feature films presented in Official Selection and in parallel sections.
Anaïs Demoustier, President of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival Caméra d'or jury who bestow the award on one of the debut feature films presented in Official Selection and in parallel sections. Photo: © Rudy Marmet
Nobody could accuse French star Anaïs Demoustier of being a slouch when it comes to work. Her feet barely seem to touch ground as she soars from one project to the next. This month she has even managed to fit in a stint as president of the Camera d’Or jury at the Cannes Film Festival which is awarded to debut feature films from the official selection and its various associated sections.

The aim of encouraging new talent strikes chords; she has always found an affinity for talents at an early stage in their development who “want to try something different.”

Following in the wake of previous presidents including last year’s Rossy de Palma, Demoustier suggests that: “Among my greatest joys as a spectator is seeing the debut film of a director who goes on to become a major force. As an actress, I’ve been lucky to experience alongside young directors the delicate balance between nervous energy and a desire to see through their first creation. I am very honoured and looking forward to discovering these debut films at Cannes this year.”

If that wasn’t enough already she has a new film in the Cannes Première section: Along Came Love (Le Temps d’aimer) by Katell Quillévéré [Love Like Poison (2010), Suzanne (2013)], described as a stirring melodrama taking place over the course of 20 years. Demoustier takes on a lead role opposite Vincent Lacoste who plays a character based on the director’s grandfather.

She has strong associations with the festival dating back to 2003 when, as virtual unknown and only aged 14, she appeared in Michael Haneke’s post-apocalyptic drama Time Of The Wolf which was screened Out of Competition. She appeared opposite Isabelle Huppert, not a bad opening gambit for a girl straight from high school. Huppert has been an inspiration ever since, with the star saying she admires “the kind of choices she makes”. Demoustier adds, when we met up in Paris earlier in the year: “Isabelle is not afraid of working with untried, first-time directors and continues to take risks. That is also what I try to do.” Recently Demoustier (paired with Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) was seen in Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s debut feature Anaïs In Love as a a millennial who speeds through life as if she’s afraid that it might catch her - perfect casting for Demoustier's breathless demeanour.

One of the directors she has recently taken a chance on has been absurdist king Quentin Dupieux, who phoned her out of the blue after seeing her in Emmanuel Mouret’s romantic comedy Caprice. “He suggested it would be good if we could meet up. It was a complete surprise, but I was delighted that he thought of me because I love his films and his universe. I could not quite work out why he had thought me of in the first place, but I wasn’t complaining. I just didn’t think I was crazy enough to appeal to him.

Anaïs Demoustier and Isabelle Huppert in The Time Of The Wolf
Anaïs Demoustier and Isabelle Huppert in The Time Of The Wolf Photo: UniFrance
“I worked on three of his films in smaller roles as girls who were total idiots. I was happy to do it, because in the films I would normally do my characters were much more intellectual and sensible. I have played the likes of lawyers and philosophers - characters who were intelligent and serious minded. It was such a release to play characters who were the precise opposite. It opened up a new kind of acting for me - based on jokes and tomfoolery.

“What I think Quentin appreciates in his actors is if they can take pleasure in the text because his scripts are very precise. With him there are no improvisations - it is all tightly scripted. I like finding the right rhythm - almost like a musician. He is a musician himself and I love music, so may be that is why we got on so well. In his films I adore the visual elements and the design and the costumes - quite unlike any other French director I can think of. I also like his kind of melancholic view of the world while also keeping the madcap aspects of his work.

"To get along with him you have to understand the tone of his comedy and his idiosyncrasies. Comedy is difficult to do - as in life there are things that make some people laugh and others not at all. In his films you are never sure how it is all going to work out. He doesn’t do a lot of takes and also he doesn’t like giving long explanations about the psychology of his characters.”

The 35-year-old recently has had a fertile run with Dupieux first playing a character called Nicotine in a super-hero spoof Smoking Makes You Cough decked out in a blue catsuit and silver space helmet. She then joined some of her cohorts from that film including Alain Chabat, Pierre Niney and Gilles Lellouche, to play a French journalist who meets Surrealist artist Salvador Dali over the course of trying to set up a documentary which never gets off the ground. Daaaaaali! was rumoured for a slot at Cannes but now looks more likely for the Venice Film Festival in late August. There are five different Dalis in the narrative and Demoustier’s character provides the thread.

Anaïs Demoustier in November: "I was slightly anxious that because it was a big production that it might not quite get the right tone. But when I read the script I was reassured …"
Anaïs Demoustier in November: "I was slightly anxious that because it was a big production that it might not quite get the right tone. But when I read the script I was reassured …" Photo: UniFrance
Dupieux describes Demoustier as “very playful and ready for anything”. He adds: “I have made 12 movies and therefore I have seen many actors. But she has this thing that when we shoot she is always perfect and she never misses a line. Even if she goes in the wrong direction it is still good. She has this amazing power. She is never scared and she is never bored. With some actors you work with them for only ten days and you can often tell that they would rather just go home. Anaïs is always hungry for more. She is great to work with. She did three small parts in my previous movies but in the one about Dali she is the main character.”

Since her first trip to Cannes with Haneke Demoustier has completed more than two dozen film roles and has returned to the Croisette no less than four times, including last year for Out of Competition title November, directed by Cédric Jimenez, one of several films set around the Bataclan attacks in Paris.

“It continues to be such a sensitive subject in France. I was slightly anxious that because it was a big production, it might not quite get the right tone. But when I read the script I was reassured because it takes place on the inside of the police operation and inquiry - over four days after the attack they had to track down the perpetrators. There is nothing voyeuristic in the film - no reconstitution of the attacks themselves.

“I like films that take you into other worlds that you don’t know and I knew nothing before I started about how the police worked. It was also a different way of working with the director Cédric Jimenez who again is not like other French directors - he is more in the American style. This was an enormous production but he makes sure that the actors don’t get lost in it all. He has a visceral way of working with his cast. It is great to work with auteur directors but also to try a different scale of cinema. The film was a box office hit and there were plenty of young people in the audience - it was an event that marked their generation. As for me I was at home when it happened but that was only ten minutes from the Bataclan. I was pregnant at the time and it took me quite a while to pluck up the courage to go back out on the streets.”

As a parting shot she recalls that after working with Haneke she was offered the main role in a TV series. She mulled it over but even at an impressionable age she decided it wasn’t for her. “I am very instinctive and intuitive about my choice of roles. It’s nothing to do with being snobbish,” she assures me with a gutsy laugh.

Cannes Film Festival runs from 16 to 27 May. The Camera d’Or will be awarded during the closing ceremony. Along Came Love screens in Cannes Saturday 20 20.30/Debussy (Gala) and Sunday 21,13.15/Salle Agnès Varda

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