‘Who are you Anaïs? Where did you spring from?’
Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier) is always running late. And because she’s claustrophobic, she can often be found running up many flights of stairs. When she talks – she rarely stops – a flurry of words gushes out of her, leaving her conversation partner in a state of spellbound bemusement. If Anaïs is passionate about something (or someone), she will chase it relentlessly. Her single-mindedness can wound others, but it’s impossible to be angry at her for too long. However delicate she may appear, Anaïs is a formidable steamroller of charm.
When she meets the much older Daniel (Denis Podalydès) at a party one day, he happily lets her steamroll right over him. The two soon fall into bed, but not long after, fall right back out again. After their brief affair has concluded, Anaïs becomes obsessed with Daniel’s beautiful writer wife, Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), and decides to pursue her. Emilie returns her interest, but when Daniel discovers the two women dancing together, things get even more complicated.
Anaïs in Love is the debut feature of writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, and the movie is every inch as charming as its enchanting leading lady. Demoustier’s performance is so instantly and consistently captivating, that everyone she meets falls in love with her makes perfect sense.
What gives Bourgeois-Tacquet’s film its stealthy depth, however, is the way in which it interrogates her charm, without taking anything away from it. The more time we spend with Anaïs, the more we see that beneath her effervescent personality lies an undercurrent of fear. When she goes to visit her parents, and discovers that her mother (Anne Canovas) has had a recurrence of the cancer she had thought she’d beaten seven years earlier, Anaïs runs away from her feelings – literally. She loves her mum, and she wants to be there for her, but she’s frightened to let scary things into her determinedly sunny world. ‘Hardship scares me, and that makes me selfish’, she admits, in one of several accurate moments of self-diagnosis.
Another side effect of Anaïs’s relentless pursuit of pleasure is that it gets in the way of her achieving her weightier goals. She’s a PHD student, but her giddy passion seeking repeatedly interferes with her studies. After a while, her constant running starts to look exhausting; Emilie wonders how she’s ever going to make a substantial life for herself if she can’t sit still for five minutes. Still, Anaïs’s irrepressibility remains mesmerising. A true force of nature, attempting to weigh her down with pedestrian things like ‘planning for the future’ seem as pointless and dispiriting as trying to teach a unicorn how to do the laundry.
Anaïs in Love is an entrancing exploration of the nature of passion: is it the point of life, or does it get in life’s way? Bourgeois-Tacquet’s movie clearly favours one side of the argument, and when it provides us with such a lush, pleasurable viewing experience – albeit one with more depth than it first appears – then who are we to disagree?