Los Angeles Times
French auteur explores amour
What would happen if the smart, sexy 30-ish woman at the center of “Anaïs in Love” stopped moving — rushing from place to place, temptation to temptation, responsibility to responsibility? From frame one of French writer director Charline Bourgeois percolating character study of a restless millennial, vivaciously played by Anaïs Demoustier, we sense a boundlessness that, while infectious and exasperating, is also wrapped in an anxiety about the limits of passion.
The French cinematic legacy of amorous pursuit spiced by intellectual worry, so memorably enshrined by New Wave’s youth whisperer Eric Rohmer — and in the post-New Wave era by the likes of Arnaud Desplechin and Olivier Assayas — appears to be in good hands with Bourgeois-Tacquet, if her robust, illuminating debut feature is any indication. Like any craftily layered confection, what at first presents itself as colorfully whipped reveals itself to be a more tangy, lasting bite.
We meet freckled, flowerprint-favoring grad student Anaïs in a whirlwind of chatter and chase as she charms the landlord to whom she owes rent with a running (stalling?) stream of commentary about her love life (she kicked out her boyfriend), academic stress (an incomplete thesis) and job situation (none) before hurrying off on her bike to a party. There she flirts with Daniel (Denis Podalydès), an older, married book publisher who she decides is interesting enough for an affair in the wake of her boredom with Raoul (Christophe Montenez). Not that Raoul is out of the picture, but in a subsequent meet-up scene, during which Anaïs casually tosses off that she’s terminating a seven-week pregnancy he didn’t know about, he calls her a “bulldozer” regarding other humans’ feelings.
Anaïs isn’t always in earth-churning gear, however — there are vulnerabilities and protective mechanisms. A seaside visit with her adoring but ailing mother (Anne Canovas) reveals a concerned daughter fearful for the time her mom won’t be around. During a rendezvous at Daniel’s house when his longtime partner is away, he starts to treat Anaïs like a standard mistress (a “crap bourgeois cliché”) and not the homewrecking ball of fire she identifies as in this scenario, so she bolts, telling him off with, “I like people who know what they want!”
Which, of course, means people like who she imagines herself to be. So when she encounters Emilie (the radiant Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a celebrated author whose wide-ranging tastes and creative independence seem to mirror Anaïs’ own philosophy toward seizing life, she upends hers once again to maneuver herself into a whole new romantic (and, naturally, complicated) quest.
As the action moves to an out-of-town symposium — where the atmosphere can be affected by a discussion of Marguerite Duras, a hidden room of antique erotica or the Kim Carnes classic “Bette Davis Eyes” at an evening soiree — Bourgeois Tacquet proves to be a literate, witty farceur. She can fold well-turned emotional truths into the filmic pleasures of a comically uncomfortable situation or sexually charged moment without breaking her rhythm. She has a wonderful visual partner too in Noé Bach, whose unfussy cinematography is as crisp and alert in the bustle of city streets as it is attuned to the pastoral draw of the countryside or the intimate gleam of a beach interlude.
While Anaïs is a charismatic energy source, and Demoustier’s fizzy, swirling portrayal as wonderfully in the moment as it can be, the filmmaker’s astute treatment of Emilie — the beguiled target who knows how to re-shift the molecules in the air — is what ultimately, intelligently crystallizes the themes of seduction, pleasure and what’s too often untapped about female power. It’s easy to see what’s Rohmer-ian in the basic architecture of “Anaïs in Love,” yet there’s no denying this is a narrative whose wisdom and nonjudgmental perspective on life, love and learning is a woman’s. May we get many more tales of zestful turbulence from Bourgeois-Tacquet, a storyteller to watch.