Anaïs in Love opens with its title character in a frenzy, running up the stairs to her apartment with a bouquet of flowers to meet her landlady, who gives her a smoke alarm to install. Through the ensuing dialogue, dominated by the nonstop talking of Anaïs, the viewer discovers that she is two months behind on the rent. Anaïs blames her breakup with Raoul (Christophe Montenez), with whom she was expecting to split the rent. This is Anaïs: selfish and self-absorbed, beautiful, engulfed in turmoil, and charming.
The film is a story about being 30. Debut writer-director Charlene Bourgeois-Tacquet says that she “wanted to depict the portrait of a complex young woman, caught in a web of material and existential difficulties corresponding with her age and era. The portrait of a young woman who is figuring out who she is.” It is this universality which makes Anaïs in Love immediately accessible, regardless of the potential language barrier (it is in French), which dissolves into boundaryless authenticity by the time Anaïs has changed her clothes while her landlady waits in an adjacent room.
After Anaïs poses questions about her own capacity for love to her landlady, and debating whether she was in love with Raoul at all, her landlady says that there is no normal in relationships: “We do what we can with what we are.” And the rabbit hole opens.
Anaïs is incapable of filtering herself. She moves from one encounter to the next, never able to talk quickly enough. She literally runs numerous times throughout the film—up stairs, down the street, through a parking garage. It provokes anxiety that Anaïs doesn’t seem to realize she puts forth. In one scene, Raoul asks Anaïs, “Do you have any idea what human interaction is? A relationship?” Raoul continues: “You’re like a bulldozer…See, you’re violent. A bully.” Anaïs doesn’t see it.
She escapes the city to return to her parents’ home on the coast, where some bad news awaits. A poignant moment has Anaïs wearing a dress she has owned since age 17, standing against a railing, crying, looking out on the sea with a single sailboat in the distance. Closer to shore, waves crash against the rocks. Opera plays in the background. She is alone, walks down to the beach, takes off her dress and walks into the water, as if trying to cleanse herself
When the idea of working for a publisher is brought up by her mother, who says she would meet interesting people, Anaïs responds: “I don’t want to meet interesting people. I want to be interesting.” The malleable boundary between youth and adolescence is scrutinized like a cell under a microscope. The theme is clear and never seems too forced.
While Anaïs searches through dark rooms and crowded streets for what it is that she wants, she begins seeing an older man, Daniel (Denis Podalydès)—a writer—who doesn’t want his life with his wife to change, but also wants Anaïs. This bothers Anaïs. “I like people who know what they want,” she says. There is great contradiction in this. Maybe it is because she is so uncertain that she looks for certainty in others.
Anaïs is played by actor Anaïs Demoustier. When Bourgeois-Tacquet was asked why she named the character Anaïs, she says, “Firstly, I wanted a name that was not a social marker. I had a list of three names, including Anaïs, and when I knew Anaïs Demoustier was going to play the role, I didn’t hesitate for a second. And this leads me to the second reason: I very much like confusing fiction with reality. This character is named Anaïs, but she just as well could have been named Charline. It’s her without being her, it’s me without being me, but it’s undoubtedly (and along with others) a mix of her and me!” Reality and fiction are blurred further in Anaïs in Love. Daniel’s wife, Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), is a writer. During a talk about her work, she says “I’m hard to classify. Well, my literary work is.”
Emilie and Anaïs get closer (in more ways than one) at a writer’s symposium. Anaïs’ thesis, which she has been procrastinating, is about the depiction of passion in 17th century literature. Without the funds to pay for her week-long stay, she finds herself helping out a groundskeeper who happens to be an amateur playwright. While stripping paint, he tells Anaïs, “they say this is the age of the individual, but the collective is back in force.” Anaïs seems not to hear: “The ivy smells so nice,” she says.
The conversations between Emilie and Anaïs get longer and deeper. Emilie reflects on her life—and her writing—at Anaïs’ age. Emilie tells her that she was obsessive—that she “didn’t take a day off for years.” Anaïs is surprised and says she had the impression Emilie was a hedonist. “Maybe,” Emilie says, “but I had to conquer that.” The complexity of each of the character’s passions collide at the symposium. And maybe for the first time in Anaïs’ life, she doesn’t get everything that she wants. Her landlady had said, “We do what we can with what we are.”