“Was that your mistress on the phone?”
In most contexts, a question like this would trigger a series of accusations, threats, confessions, slammed doors. But Anais in love, charming but lighthearted debut feature from actress-turned-writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, isn’t representative of most contexts. It’s a funny French film, which revels in its Frenchness.
The title Anaïs is played by Anaïs Demoustier, who audiences may remember as Isabelle Huppert’s daughter in Michael Haneke’s 2003 dystopian drama wolf houror that of the airport hotel maid who transforms into a sparrow in Pascale Ferran bird people. When we first meet her here, she’s running through the streets of Paris, late for a date, with a big, engaging smile on her face.
It’s her natural state: to be late, but always smiling. Anais, you see, is “impulsive,” which is often another word for being boring, but she’s so adorable she can get away with it. People will be waiting for her because when she finally shows up, she will bring with her a burst of radiant energy.
Our young heroine doesn’t have a lot of money but knows that the landlady would never kick her out. She drags her feet on her thesis (on “representations of passion in the 17th century”), but her director only sighs when he shrugs his shoulders. Her ex-boyfriend knows, deep down, that if she wants him back, he’ll come running. He is not mistaken.
At a party, she meets a friend of her friend’s parents, Daniel (Denis Podalydès), a man around her father’s age, and they begin an affair. (It’s France.) He’s married and swears it’s the first time…well, at least in 12 years when he cheated on his first wife with his current wife. Anaïs is mistaken in thinking that Daniel wants a serious relationship (even if she is not sure if she does) but when he dithers, she walks out.
Dressing her wounds, she takes up a novel written by Daniel’s wife, Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and falls in love. Shying away from her responsibilities further, she heads north to Brittany where Emilie is in residence, giving an author seminar.
What is the key to do Anais in love so enjoyable is that these simple plot points seem ready and willing to allow interruptions to just about anything. Once again, Anaïs is “impulsive”, and her film must be too. If she and her mother want to sit barefoot on lawn chairs and talk a bit about Marguerite Duras, then that’s what will happen. Anaïs’ brother’s friend’s lemur falls ill? Alright, let’s spend some time on that too.
What Bourgeois-Tacquet recognizes is that it’s too pleasant to simply be in the presence of Anaïs. She’s the friend who always lights up the room, and not in some magical, boring way, but just by being positive, even when subletters have nearly burned down her apartment.
As with many great laid-back French movies (Éric Rohmer feels like a big influence here), the locations are gorgeous, but grandeur is balanced with simplicity. The Literature Seminar is at the Chateau de Kerduel, which is a big hit at tourist sites but Bourgeois-Tacquet spins it in a down-to-earth style. The rooms are just rooms, the field is just a field, although there are a few crab apple trees. The focus remains on the characters, like Anaïs who, as the title suggests, becomes more than intrigued by her older lover’s wife, and soon finds herself lover.
Anais in love triggers memories of Bernardo Bertolucci steal beauty, another lovely movie, but it’s definitely from a more recent era. Although it is hardly the A-piece in any catalog of feminist films, it is very much said by the young woman exploring the romantic possibility, rather than bringing it to light. Anaïs would no doubt find the mid-’90s arthouse classic invigorating, but will likely show up 20 minutes late and leave before the end. But you have to love it anyway.