Anaïs In Love
"The film’s fast flowing current carries a number of character messages we can fish out, as if they were polished by the stream, all shiny and specific." | Photo: Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

Flowers, lots of them, in manic speed fill the screen. Anaïs, who is working on her thesis in literature, is played by Anaïs Demoustier in a whirlwind performance opposite Denis Podalydès (great in Arnaud Desplechin’s adaptation with Julie Peyr of Philip Roth’s Deception, another highlight of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York) and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in Anaïs In Love (Les Amours d'Anaïs). Anaïs is always late, wears red lipstick to go with floral dresses, and carries her bike up many flights of stairs because she never replaced the lock, and she is too claustrophobic to take elevators. All this we learn in the first few minutes of Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s wonderfully entertaining film. The above motifs as well as her character traits will return many times throughout this well-structured portrait of someone who cares deeply about details others might discard as superfluous, while she treats profoundly serious issues as asides, at least in public, if not to herself.

Anaïs offers her Paris landlady (Marie-Armelle Deguy) red berry juice when confronted on the two months of unpaid rent. A smoke detector introduced early on is more than justification for slapstick and the poster of Marguerite Duras in the protagonist’s apartment functions as a guardian angel of the film, as Duras returns in many disguises. Anaïs likes to overshare and simultaneously ask intimate questions of others she hardly knows. Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby may come to mind and Carole Lombard, Rosalind Russell or Claudette Colbert, who with lightning speed out-manoeuvre anyone with language, wit and panache. Still, this heroine is unmistakably a product of the 21st century with her awarenesses and peeves.

With a light and humorous touch, Bourgeois-Tacquet counters the countless so-called comedies in which the schlubbiest and most sophomoric of guys get the most gorgeous women - movies often directed by men whose protagonists resemble them in slightly improved forms and where magical wish fulfilment is writ large. Here we are presented in precise and often funny scenes with what men for the longest time have taken for granted. “I want my life to stay exactly the same” is a line delivered beautifully by Denis Podalydès as book publisher Daniel. He tells his mistress in all seriousness that he never cheated on his wife - during the act of cheating on her!

Literature is sprinkled throughout, as backdrop to the main characters’ lives and in references to their affinities. Besides the omnipresent Duras, a photograph of Alain Robbe-Grillet with Odile (Annie Mercier), the host of a writers’ workshop, a nod to Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s libretto for Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, or a scene with Gena Rowlands from John Cassavetes’s Opening Night expand the horizon. ”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 of the character.

Her energy and attitude can be simultaneously admirable and infuriating. When in the bathroom of Daniel’s apartment, Anaïs 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.

We cannot choose what we love, infatuation is fluid and can manifest itself in personal items, for example a book with scribbled notes at the margins and nail varnish stains. How much is really ever original is a question asked by a number of films that came out this year, from Jöns Jönsson’s Axiom, which screened in Berlin, to Antoine Barraud’s Madeleine Collins, also in the Glasgow Film Festival and Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York.

The film’s fast flowing current carries a number of character messages we can fish out, as if they were polished by the stream, all shiny and specific. There is Anaïs’s brother Balthazar (Xavier Guelfi), and his over-the-top, slightly grotesque but ultimately harmless incident with a lemur named Gilbert, that perfectly illustrates his incompetence. When Anaïs stands by the river with Yoann (Jean-Charles Clichet), the writer/handyman who works at the symposium she attends and where Emilie is a speaker, the body language and the clothes worn by him compared to the two women, speak volumes.

When Anaïs visits her parents, a family pattern emerges. She talks at length with her mother (Anne Canovas) about a pool that is being shut down, while a life and death update remains unmentioned. Meeting her ex-boyfriend Raoul (Christophe Montenez) to go to the cinema, she is not only late as usual, but tells him what for most people would be urgent information as an aside. “You don’t realize what human interaction is,” says Raoul and accuses her of advancing through life like a bulldozer. She responds “You are violent in your inertia,” a great line and one of the many small and big surprises of this charming film. Edits are unpredictable and effective in making clear that there are many different ways to live a life, to find purpose, to find love.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2022
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A woman in her early thirties goes full steam ahead in pursuit of experiences which come and go at a fast pace.
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Director: Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet

Writer: Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet

Starring: Anaïs Demoustier, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Denis Podalydès, Jean-Charles Clichet

Year: 2021

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: France

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