‘Anais in Love’ an enchanting French romance with touches of fantasy

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FILM CRITIC

“ANAIS IN LOVE”

Unclassified. In French with subtitles. At Landmark Kendall Square.

Rating: A-

Anaïs (Anais Demoustier), the beautiful little dynamo at the heart of the often whimsical romance “Anais in Love”, reminded me of the paradox of irresistible force meeting an immovable object. She’s a bit of a mess at the start of writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s film, making an impressive feature debut. Anais, who is claustrophobic, can often be seen running in Paris as there is so much going on in her life.

She missed two months’ rent for her small apartment with its faulty gas stove. She missed a deadline for the second part of her thesis. She is pregnant, but not for very long. Her mother’s cancer returned after years of remission. His father (Bruno Todeschini) opposes it when an upset anaïs enters his room and that of his wife and wakes him up. She is supposed to attend a symposium and take care of all hotel reservations and meetings for her tutor (Grégoire Oestermann). Her brother Balthazar keeps a lemur that Anais can’t bear to touch.

Meanwhile, she meets a publisher old enough to be her father at a dinner party. His name is Daniel Moreau-Babin (Denis Podalydes). He signs his DMB emails and succumbs to the quirky but powerful charms of Anais, who is nevertheless married to the writer Emilie Decret (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). To defend his infidelity, Daniel says he doesn’t know what his wife is “up” at her literary evenings and at her country house. Anais becomes obsessed with Emilie before meeting her and follows her to another symposium at the picturesque Château de Kerduel in Brittany, leaving her tutor high and dry.

Anaïs is an emblematic figure of French cinema. We’ve seen her many times over the decades, played by different actors. But Anaïs herself is almost always the same. A young man eager for sexual experience and eager to seize the day, or “carpe diem” as the poets say in Latin.

Bourgeois-Tacquet was awarded for her 2018 short film “Pauline Enslaved”. Her Anaïs makes the most of a small collection of dresses, including a red version of the little black dress, and perhaps a metaphor for the fire in Anais’ veins. “Anais in Love” is another portrait of a woman on fire. Anais lashes out at Emilie like a demon, showering her with attention and praise and showing up for her interviews, enchanted by every word that comes out of Emilie’s lips.

Are Daniel and Emilie the replacements for Anais’ parents? Is his ardent desire for Emilie a manifestation of his deep concern for his mother? The French might say maybe (maybe). To the tune of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, a flurry of love letters are exchanged between Anais and Emilie after the symposium.

Bourgeois-Tacquet worked in publishing after studying literature and theatre. She physically resembles Demoustier, who presumably plays a writer-director version. Maybe that’s another reason why Anaïs jumps off the screen and why Demoustier is so wonderful to play her.

Fall for “Anais in Love”.

(“Anais in Love” contains mature themes and sexually suggestive language.)

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