There were two main reasons why I decided to rent this film from BFI Player. First I’m currently thinking about contemporary ‘romance’ films and secondly it stars Anaïs Demoustier, an actor who intrigues me but whose performance in The Girl With a Bracelet (2019) was not what I expected. Anaïs in Love is a début feature by Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, whose second short film was screened at Cannes in 2018. Bourgeois-Tacquet, a relatively late entrant into film production, clearly made an impression as her feature has three celebrated actors in the lead roles.
Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier) is a thirty year-old woman in Paris attempting to complete a thesis on ‘Passion in 17th Century Literature’, but actually she seems too busy seizing opportunities to do anything else rather than writing. In fact she seems to be exploring her own take on ‘desire’ as a practical exercise. Unfortunately she has little money so her life has a series of interruptions as she tries to placate her landlady and her bank and look for new sources of funds. She is a charming but compulsive liar as she sidesteps problems and pursues her next opportunity. I’ve checked out a number of reviews of the film by women. I found a five star review likening the film to the great screwball comedies and performances like Katherine Hepburn’s in Bringing Up Baby (1938). But then I went to a one star review suggesting that Anaïs is “walking the edge of mental illness”. I’m much closer to the first view, but it is true that Anaïs does not think too much about the damage her straight-talking and lying might do to others.
I don’t want to spoil the narrative, but I do need to mention a few points. Anaïs has a long-suffering boyfriend but she attracts the attention of Daniel (Denis Podalydès) an older man at a party and begins a possible affair. But when she sees a photograph of the man’s partner, a well-known writer Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), she decides that she must meet her. Anaïs follows Emilie to a writers’ symposium in Brittany. But there are several serious issues going on in the background for Anaïs. One is the return of her mother’s cancer. Her mother is roughly the same age as Emilie. How Anaïs deals with her emotional life is the central issue of the film. How important is her desire for Emilie? Should desire be put on hold when there are other issues to consider? The narrative has to deal with switches of tone and present realism alongside romance.
Part of the problem for audiences is to get past the idea that this is a ‘romcom’ genre film. The casting and the highly literate dialogue should clue us in to a film with an auteur label. The film draws on the director’s experience in publishing and her own interests in cinema. Her earlier short Pauline Enslaved (2018) also starred Anaïs Demoustier and the Press Pack for Anaïs in Love carries interviews with the director and her star. Bourgeois-Tacquet combines two approaches in her presentation of Anaïs. Her camera (with Noé Bach as cinematographer) is constantly on the move in an attempt to keep up with Anaïs literally running through the Paris streets. Scenes were planned with careful choreography – plan-séquence shooting, but this movement is linked directly to the rapid-fire dialogue. A glib observation might be that this is like Éric Rohmer on speed. The director tells us that she likes Rohmer but that her film is not ‘Rohmerian’. On the other hand the references to language and literature are a direct connection and in some ways, although she is perhaps too exaggerated for one of Rohmer’s young women, Anaïs does remind us of some of them. The film is set in summer and Anaïs dashes around in mini-sundresses, sometimes with heels, as if suggesting that she carries little baggage and is ready for any occasion. The narrative also moves out of Paris to the coastline of Brittany which adds to the Rohmer feel. However, the filmmaker who the director references most is Jean-Paul Rappeneau (who I only know as a writer). At one point in the narrative, Anais and Emilie watch the John Cassavetes film Opening Night (1977) in which Gena Rowlands plays an ageing stage actress heading for a breakdown. There are some parallels between this film and Anaïs in Love.
The central performance by Anaïs Demoustier is very good. I was intrigued to see that Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet says her passion for drama was lit at age 14 after seeing Isabelle Huppert on stage in Medea. Anaïs Demoustier’s first major role was in Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf (2003) as Isabelle Huppert’s young daughter. Since then she has been quite Huppert-like in working on a wide range of projects with nearly 80 credits over the last twenty years. I hadn’t really thought of Demoustier as resembling Huppert before but now I think about it, I remember the young Huppert in films like Les valseuses (1974) in which she played a teenager on the loose (she was 20 at the time). Both women are physically slight but with the suggestion of strength beneath. Both can also play younger. Both also have attractive freckles. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is also very good as Emilie and the scenes with the two women together are very well played. The characters come together with a shared love of Marguerite Duras and especially her 1964 novel, Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein. I was also interested to come across a short film in my research, Pauline (2010) starring Demoustier as a young woman in her teens talking to camera while lying on her bed about the homophobia she experienced as a young teenager. Adèle Haenel makes a brief appearance at the end. The film was directed by Céline Sciamma and is available on YouTube with subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvgnOqBu314 I mention it here simply to show Demoustier’s range and the notable figures she has worked with.
I think that Anaïs in Love in love would make an interesting pairing with The Worst Person in the World (Norway 2022) in a film studies exercise. Both films feature 30 year-old women who have fought shy of commitment to career, partner or family life, but whom we see engaged in a passionate affair. The two leads are not dissimilar in appearance and manner, though Anaïs pushes further and her choice is an older woman, rather than an older man. The major difference is that one film is directed by a woman and one by a man and that means a different narrative structure and a different ending. I recommend both films in their attempts to deal with a ‘modern woman’ and the question of commitment or desire.
Anaïs in Love was released in the UK in August and is now available on streamers and on DVD from Peccadillo Pictures: