Review: A Breezy French Romantic Comedy, Anaïs in Love Finds Honesty, Authenticity

Perhaps because I just saw Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World for a second (and just as impressive) time, Anaïs in Love, the feature directorial debut from actor Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, feels unexpectedly familiar, playing like a lighter, less consequential (but nevertheless enjoyable) rumination on young womanhood, love, heartbreak and finally growing up at the age of 30. Anaïs Demoustier is the eponymous lead, a woman who fears enclosed spaces both literally and figuratively. She cannot take elevators or the metro due to her claustrophobia, and she is constantly on the move to her next adventure, love affair, job, apartment, you name it.

And over the course of the film’s breezy 98 minutes, Anaïs moves through quite a few of all of the above, Bourgeois-Tacquet’s script sending us in quick succession through her protagonist’s comings and goings. There’s the man she’s seeing, who desperately wants to settle down and have children, the last thing Anaïs is interested in at the moment. There’s her mother’s surprise cancer diagnosis, news Anaïs takes in relative stride, considering. There’s the several months of rent she owes to her landlord, which she decides to earn by sub-letting the place to tourists. Which works out well, because she’s moved on from Raoul and is now sleeping with Daniel (Denis Podalydes), a much older, married man, a publisher she met through her brother’s girlfriend. She’s a whirlwind of energy and movement, always chattering on about something and never staying in one place long enough to get attached to anything (or, you know, to risk getting hurt).

Through Daniel, Anaïs meets Emilie (the always transcendent Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a popular author whose work Anaïs appreciates—and also Daniel’s wife. Though her boss expects her to work at a conference to do with her thesis project, Anaïs skips out on her responsibilities (a very Anaïs thing to do) and instead invites herself to a symposium at a country estate where Emilie is participating in panels and writing workshops. The two strike up a conversation, then a bit of a friendship, and soon something much more, as Anaïs breaks things off with Daniel (who also shows up at the symposium) in order to pursue Emilie. And that’s in the midst of fielding phone calls from her tenants about a kitchen fire in her apartment and helping her brother get his girlfriend’s pet lemur to the emergency vet when it inadvertently ODs on Xanax. To say that Anaïs in Love is a bit quirky and lighthearted is not at all a criticism; it all fits delightfully together alongside Anaïs’s own quirks and eccentricities.

That’s not to say the film just flits and flutters from scene to scene; Bourgeois-Tacquet smartly finds hints of sincerity and depth in Anaïs’s experiences, and we watch as she evolves in her ability to truly connect with something and to finally, maybe stay in one place long enough to do so. A piercing but necessary monologue from Bruni Tedeschi’s Emilie in the film’s final moments seems to pull Anaïs’s head out of the clouds once and for all, and though it’s not easy to watch this spritely, vibrant figure dim ever so slightly, it is honest and authentic. In the end, Anaïs in Love is a charming contemporary French comedy with an engaging central performance from Demoustier, whose Anaïs is never so unhinged as to become ingratiating. She’s simply trying to figure out life—and love—on her own terms, even as she’s defining what exactly those are.

The film is now playing in theaters, including Landmark Renaissance Place.

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Lisa Trifone