Los Angeles Times

French auteur explores amour

- By Robert Abele

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.

 ?? Karl Colonnier Magnolia Pictures ?? ANAÏS (Anaïs Demoustier), right, learns from the celebrated author Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi).
Karl Colonnier Magnolia Pictures ANAÏS (Anaïs Demoustier), right, learns from the celebrated author Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi).

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