THE STORY – A spirited young woman falls in love with the live-in partner of the man with whom she’s having an affair.
THE CAST – Anaïs Demoustier, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi & Denis Podalydès
THE TEAM – Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 98 Minutes
By Josh Parham
It doesn’t take a true expert in the field to understand how complicated the notion of love can be. It’s a swirling mix of human emotions, often contradictory in pursuing happiness that can feel ever elusive. It’s a vast landscape encompassing various perspectives and observations, and the final results can be just as poignant as the journey taken. Like any heavily discussed topic, finding innovation in the commentary can be a difficult task, as many storytellers have provided their own interpretations on this subject. “Anaïs In Love” is another such venture into this terrain, and it is a film that finds a tenderness in its characters while also never quite coalescing into a satisfying whole that is distinct in its presentation.
Anaïs Demoustier plays the title character, a manic young woman who floats in and out of any moment she pleases. Her romantic entanglements have turned the relationship with her current boyfriend into a toxic one that is ending. This happens just as a new affair begins with Daniel (Denis Podalydès). He’s a book publisher she meets at a party, and her attraction to older men thrusts them together. However, insecurities on his part encourage him to terminate their brief encounter, also spurred by his guilt of cheating on his wife, Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). Yet there is a defiance in Anaïs as she drops all other professional commitments and travels to the countryside to see Emilie, a published author participating in a symposium. Though their meeting is from a false sense of happenstance, the two form a deep bond that further questions what Anaïs is truly searching for throughout this unexpected odyssey.
Writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet captures a warm and inviting tone throughout that capitalizes on a bubbly energy that is quite endearing. The kinetic camera moves just as effortlessly as its protagonist, creating an appropriate sense of momentum of a life that feels destined for an unquenched thirst for novelty. There is an appealing tenderness in how this character study is crafted, which successfully taps into a naturalistic portrait of a confused and erratic personality. It is fortunate that Bourgeois-Tracquet doesn’t let that frenzied spirit drown out the film’s calibrated intimacy, and she showcases a great talent in making this a captivating exercise through intelligent filmmaking.
However, the foundation Bourgeois-Tracquet applies from the script is the main source of the film’s issues. The narrative itself does not find itself sustaining that engagement, and the drive to propel the plot forward stalls in the second half. The budding romance between Anaïs and Emilie is a welcomed portrait that feels little seen: a deeply emotional bond between two generations of women who connect on a physical and mental level of bliss. At the same time, this exploration constricts the pacing and actually comes across as more artificial in its setup, as if it is an arbitrary point to create a contrast with the previous rapport. As the film shuffles along to an intentionally adrift ending, the established arcs capture a sense of unfulfillment that is against the design. And while the ending is not a terrible calamity, it does miss a needed spark to make it land with impact.
As the lead, Demoustier is compelling in the role and devours every frame with an infectious vitality. One may not find the character of Anaïs always to be a welcoming presence, but the performance taps into the care-free nature that must quickly reconcile with the realistic expectations of the world. In that respect, her portrayal hits many similar notes as Renate Reinsve in “The Worst Person In The World,” even embodying a physical similarity. In fact, the overall timbre of the storytelling is reminiscent of that previous film, and Demoustier is an excellent anchor to guide one through. Tedeschi is the only other performer who makes any real impression, giving a turn that is charmingly grounded and empathetic. The character itself is a bit shallow at times, but she makes the most of her screen time. The other ensemble members are merely functional, even though Podalydès has occasions where he works within this framework admirably.
“Anaïs In Love” does feature a good deal of charisma that often makes it an engrossing watch. The filmmaking has an impressive level of confidence that fits well with the overall aesthetic, and the lead performance is enthralling and well-conceived. Still, the whole is less than the sum of its parts, as that intriguing premise loses muster as the story keeps going. By the time the second part arrives, the setting surrenders to a more lethargic atmosphere that lacks the previously established dynamism. The conclusion is a piece that is enticing in its reflections about love while not being completely revelatory either.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The film has an endearing tone that crafts a captivating character study through fluid and kinetic filmmaking. Anaïs Demoustier gives a compelling performance that is engrossing to watch.
THE BAD – The second half loses steam as the story narrows its focus and misses a spark of authenticity. Most of the supporting ensemble is bland and forgettable.
THE FINAL SCORE – 6/10