Anaïs, the fanciful Parisian protagonist of Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s seductive debut feature Anais in Love, is restless, scatterbrained and always on the move. Because of her claustrophobia, taking the metro is out of the question (elevators, too); she prefers to zip through the city on her bike.
When we first meet her, Anaïs is late for a meeting with her landlord. A brisk piano tune accompanies the young woman’s race from the florist to her apartment de ella, her backpack bopping up and down as she tightly grips a bouquet.
Anais in Love
The Bottom Line
It’s the perfect introduction to this winsome, sometimes exhausting woman played by Anaïs Demoustier. The energy of the opening sequence is indeed sustained as we follow the character’s tussles with desire. Bourgeois-Tacquet’s film is a merry-go-round, a kinetic portrait of a young woman stumbling out of love, falling into it, letting it go and picking it back up. Each romance presents an opportunity for growth, but Anais in Love is not about coming of age in any neat, linear sense. The film is preoccupied — obsessed, really — with the process of growing into oneself, which is different from just getting older. Anaïs’ journey contains moments of exhilarating momentum and then, just as quickly, depressing inertia. The film, at times, feels crazed and slightly random — just like our protagonist.
The contours of Anaïs’ personality, on display through her brief, rattling conversation with her landlord, suggest a woman fixated on being interesting. As the landlord impatiently lectures her on installing a smoke detector and paying her overdue rent, Anaïs shuffles around the apartment, changing for a party and confessing how things between her and her partner de ella Raoul (Christophe Montenez) are n’t working out. The problem, Anaïs tries to explain while putting on a new dress, is that she found domesticity grating, boring, not for her.
There’s some truth to that statement, and other pseudo-profound ones Anaïs utters throughout the film. She craves passion but seems too distracted to nurture it. She longs for mystery, difference, anything! Daniel (Denis Podalydès), a man nearly her father’s age with whom she starts a steady and undramatic affair, promises that, at first. But that relationship runs into its own roadblocks when Daniel realizes he does not want to change his life from him. He does n’t want to have an affair with Anaïs, who he thinks will inevitably leave him, nor does he want to totally combust the life he’s built with his partner, Emilie (a brilliant Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a famous writer .
Anaïs, who, it becomes clear, is not used to being rejected, does not take the breakup well. She becomes fixed on Emilie, trying to understand why Daniel would choose her instead of her. She reads Emilie’s books and watches her interviews of her—familiar actions to anyone wrestling through the knotty mess of heartbreak. But the process comes with its own surprises, and what begins as curiosity morphs into fascination, attraction, lust.
The story at the center of Anais in Love is one of seduction. It’s about finding yourself so enthralled by another person, so seen, that being in their presence becomes the only goal. Although Anaïs has other responsibilities (she needs to turn in her thesis and care for her mother de ella, whose cancer has returned), she eschews them all to chase Emilie.
The two run into each other on the street, an encounter that hints at Anaïs’ attraction. Understanding dawns on her at that moment. Of course Daniel prefers Emilie, a beautiful woman whose books leave Anaïs vulnerable and inspired. “I love your style. It’s dazzling,” Anaïs says to Emilie at a busy intersection. “We seem close emotionally.”
Is Anaïs’ love for Emilie real or is it based on projection? Does it ultimately matter? Anais in Love pokes and prods at these questions, putting the two lovers in encounters that test various theories. The layers of Anaïs and Emilie’s courtship are familiar, but in Demoustier and Tedeschi’s hands they feel different, more ravishing. These are two people trying to figure each other out, Emilie initially skeptical of Anaïs’ interest in her and Anaïs hungry to learn more about this older, stoic woman.
Their encounters—even when brief—are electrifying; they capture the thrill of falling in love, which is a shadow process in self-discovery. In Emilie’s presence de ella, Anaïs is a different version of herself, more attentive, less scattered. For Emilie, Anaïs ignites a dormant passion, an energy that allows her to write feverishly and finish her book de ella. DP Noé Bach’s sleepy, golden-hued palette becomes effervescent during scenes of the two women’s horny flirtation.
The pair eventually act on their desires, consummating their love on a glittering beach one lazy summer afternoon. It’s a dream for them both, but it doesn’t last. As in her previous relationships, Anaïs, courageous in her pursuit of pleasure, comes up against limitations, projections and practicalities. A longing to love can only take her so far before reality punctures the bubble. But Anais in Love isn’t particularly interested in crushing our protagonist, who, by the film’s end, begins to see the power of her quirks. It’s really about her journey from her — one that I would, without hesitation, watch again and again.