French lovers find each other in 'Anais in Love'
"Anaïs in Love" - ★ ★ ½
We first meet the intriguing heroine of "Anaïs in Love," appropriately enough, when she's rushing. The opening scene of the French romantic comedy has her running down a Paris street with a bouquet of flowers.
She's late, which is a constant thing. Anaïs is late on appointments, late on rent, late on turning in her thesis. So she rushes from one thing to the next, always living in the present, often leaving a little cloud in her wake, relying on her charm and looks. Her ex-boyfriend calls her a "bulldozer."
"My problem is I'm too carefree," she admits.
Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, the film's director and screenwriter, has crafted a portrait of a maddeningly headstrong yet aimless woman in a sundress, not exactly a manic pixie French dream girl but perhaps adjacent.
Anaïs, at the crossroads age of 30, is played by Anaïs Demoustier, an actor Bourgeois-Tacquet highlighted in a previous short and expanded here, writing the script with her in mind. The final film is named after the actor, blurring the line between art and reality.
Who is Anaïs? A woman who feels claustrophobic in elevators, likes hiking, doesn't like sharing a bed, wears the same dress she wore at 17 and has lost her bicycle lock but still buys wine for a party.
Bourgeois-Tacquet, making her feature debut, struggles to find ways to tell the audience what's going on in her heroine's head. To be honest, Anaïs struggles, too. In one scene, she bares her soul to a Korean couple and in another she writes a letter to her mother and admits "hardship scares me and that makes me selfish." But the Korean couple don't speak French and Anaïs crumples up the letter before sending it.
Actually, Anaïs is always rushing, but it's not clear to where. She has left her contemporary, conventional lover in favor of being an older man's side lover but is not any happier. "Do you think I have a problem? That I don't know how to love?" she asks. She studies 17th-century descriptions of passion, but has none in her life.
Perhaps she's been looking in the wrong place. While doing some digging into her lover's longtime partner, she thinks she's found in her a new romantic match -- a successful and glamorous 56-year-old writer played beautifully and sensually by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. The older woman seems to have everything the young wants.
Now Anaïs shifts into full pursuit mode, arranging meetings with her crush, blowing off her job and going deeper in debt. The two women slowly circle each other, carefully, gingerly, with stolen moments.
"What do you want from me?" the older lady asks her. "Nothing. I just wanted to know you," Anaïs says. "I think we could get along. I think we're alike." Then they share a wild apple, a bite straight from the Garden of Eden.
Pursuing the partner of your lover complicates things, but the film really clicks into place once the two women come together. Only up to that point do you realize that virtually every man in the film is, well, ineffectual.
"Anaïs in Love" steadily builds to a reckoning for both women, despite a poor attempt at making the awkward trio of interconnected lovers humorous and a not-that-funny diversion with a pet lemur on Xanax (hard to explain). In the end, Bourgeois-Tacquet doesn't need anything but the fireworks between Demoustier and Tedeschi.
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Starring: Anaïs Demoustier, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Denis Podalydès
Directed by: Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet
Other: A Magnolia Pictures release in theaters. In French with subtitles. Not rated but has sex, nudity and adult situations. 98 minutes