Anais in love – now on VOD – is a deeply French film about a free spirit who freely navigates his way through life, to his delight and our conflicting feelings about it all. It’s the feature debut of writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, which puts us in the swirling orbit of its protagonist, and sits back and watches us land in Amusedville, Frustrationton or Living Vicariously City. Your mileage may vary.
The essential: Anaïs (Anais Demoustier) runs down the street with a bouquet of flowers. She is late. Get used to it – that’s how she lives her life. His landlady is waiting; she wants to install a smoke detector in Anais’ apartment and try to get rid of her for two months of rent arrears. Anais tells her that she’s behind on her payments because her boyfriend has moved out although they’re not separated and somehow distracts the increasingly bewildered landlady from the problem by asking lots of random questions and doing random observations about love and relationships, that kind of stuff, and the stove is really old so it’s good that she has a smoke detector. Later, she rides her bike to a friend’s party and ends up throwing away the bouquet of flowers because they’re all broken and she’s claustrophobic. So she asks a kind older man who is also attending the party to ride his bike in the elevator while she takes the stairs. . His bike lock was stolen, and isn’t it strange that someone stole the lock and not the bike? She meets her boyfriend and casually drops that she is pregnant and having an abortion, and barely beats a whiplash when he dares to get mad at her.
Anaïs is a free association that walks, that speaks, a sentence that flows, a small tornado of a woman who is here and now and nowhere else, exhausting, but it is not she who is exhausted, you are. She’s a Parisian caprice in a pretty summer dress, girlish bangs and red lipstick, maybe a student (writing a thesis on “descriptions of passion in the 17th century”, how is that for a field of study), in her thirties according to the description of the movie, but not the movie itself, and now she’s sleeping with the nice older man on the bike/elevator. He’s not very good at it. He rolls over and apologizes for the inaction and the smoke alarm starts sounding like a warning although who can tell if the warning is for him or her, and she gets up naked and runs and hits the alarm with a book until it springs apart like a tin of nuts, a development that will eventually cause the very old stove to burn, no doubt. Soon, she’ll be in a scene where a man gave a monkey Xanax and neither of them seem to be handling it well. I think the man is his brother and the monkey is actually a lemur.
What slows down Anais? His mother (Anne Canovas). She’s a nice woman. Lives in the countryside. Still with Anais’ father. Her cancer has come back and she will have to undergo chemotherapy. Anais is worried. But nothing is going to bring her down. We need to talk more about the older gentleman, Daniel (Denis Podalydes), who is married to a writer who often writes elsewhere. He invites Anaïs and she looks around at all this other woman’s business and is done with it. The other woman is Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a novelist, screenwriter and essayist of some fame among academics. Anaïs reads her work and it touches her deeply. Anaïs is supposed to help organize a symposium – it’s her job, or her studies, or both, it doesn’t matter, because everything seems rather neglected and withered on the vine – but she follows the seat of her pants to attend another symposium, the one where Emelie speaks, and she charms Emelie: “Did you skip a symposium to go to a symposium? Of course she did, it’s Anaïs. And she will remain Anais even after Daniel arrives at the symposium and can’t believe he’s watching his wife and young mistress get along like they might kiss sooner rather than later. How did this guy say it? I feel like I’m sitting on an atomic bomb waiting for it to explode?
What movies will this remind you of? : Go ahead, try and don’t compare Anais in love for The worst person in the worldwho channeled Amelie via Woody Allen and also played a 30-year-old woman with brown hair and bangs who doesn’t know what to do with herself and somehow chooses to live without rest. Anais also drops its directors into a movie theater watching a Cassavetes film, so wham, if you were trying to spot its free-wheeling, almost chaotic vibe, this is it.
Performance to watch: Demoustier is transfixed in a role that requires her to jump feet first into a character who is a much, much stronger candidate for The Worst Person In The World than the protagonist of The worst person in the worldAlthough the real The worst person is much worse than Anais.
Memorable dialogue: Two separate revealing statements:
Anais’ father on Anaïs: “Her irresistible charm saves her.”
Anaïs on Anaïs: “I don’t want to meet interesting people. I want be interesting.”
Sex and skin: A fair amount of occasional female nudity in comedic and erotic situations, which is so incredibly French, isn’t it?
Our opinion : Well, we spend 98 minutes with a character putting out one fire while lighting another, so it’s not the most relaxing experience. But Bourgeois-Tacquet is not openly stressing us out by putting us in Anais’ perspective – the tone here is generally breezy and sexy, with the character landing on the spectrum between debonair and silly. So let’s just call it selfishly vivacious, the kind we look at it and gauge ourselves, wonder if we could be a little more selfishly vivacious, without being this selfishly keen, and maybe be the interesting person, but not also interesting. How’s that for a terrifying compromise of an existence Anaïs would never want?
Anais in love works as a mildly light character study, its heroine (anti-heroine?) rushing headlong into a seriocomic calamity with a variety of complex types, including: Daniel, easily troubled, and ultimately simplistic. Her mother, who can appreciate her daughter’s levity amidst a dark storyline (although that subplot could be developed further). And Emelie, who carries Anais’ craze, physically and intellectually, like no one else in the film, and doesn’t succumb so easily to her charisma. (Were there others like Emelie in Anais’ life? Apparently not, but we can’t be sure.) not the hot-mess type so often satirized, stereotyped or exploited in bigger and wider comedies. Spending too much time with her could drive us crazy. But it’s hard not to side with someone for whom boredom is a mortal enemy.
Our call: SPREAD IT. Anais in love is a seductive, funny and infuriating comedy that is less of a comedy than it first appears. Let its subtle complexities sink in afterwards.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Learn more about his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.