Monday, August 22, 2022

Anaïs in Love: a character whose lack of commitment is matched by the audience’s impatience with the story (QFT until 1 September)

There is nothing profound in this tale of a flirty, impertinent, light-fingered, nosey, quickly-infatuated, selfish and self-absorbed, twenty-something PhD student in rent arrears and lacking inhibitions who dresses like a pixie and abandons her family and work responsibilities to pursue an older lover’s wife across the country to a literary summer school. You’ll pick most of that up from the trailer for Anaïs in Love, so none of that counts as a spoiler.

“Who are you Anaïs?” asks someone who has got caught up in the chaotic web of the titular character played by Anaïs Demoustier. By the time the question is posed, the audience are already all too aware that they’ve seen the totality of this thinly drawn, one-dimensional character, along with her entire underwear drawer.

One creative constant in the film is the frantic speed at which Anaïs moves. On the run, always running late, she furiously bursts into nearly every scene, like a wrecking ball smashing through everyone else’s equilibrium, ruining plans, and telling lies to delay further trouble. It’s the best thing about Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s feature debut. (What’s the worst thing, I hear you ask? Anaïs choosing to make out on the beach with sand going absolutely everywhere. Every meal for the next week will have been seasoned with sandy teeth. Yuck.)

Never have so many people wandered in and out of a cinema screening at the QFT. Like children needing the toilet at a Minions movie, they traipsed in and out, often bringing fresh plastic glasses of drink back, presumably to thole the rest of the story. About five left and didn’t return. Two gave up about five minutes before the end. Our level of audience commitment mirrors the easily broken bonds being formed and rejected on-screen.

Denis Podalydès never quite looks smitten as the older man Daniel with whom Anaïs half-heartedly starts an affair, while his literary wife Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) laudably resists before unconvincingly caving in to the allure of the young charmer. The final scene, set at the end of the summer with a trousered Anaïs (for the first time, devoid of her wardrobe of trademark floaty, flowery dresses) strangely feels like it is set several years later rather than only a month or two.

If you’ve got a spare 98 minutes, go and see My Old School or Prima Facie (which is absolutely extraordinary once the introductory panels are over and the proper theatre begins).

But if you insist on seeing Anaïs in Love – maybe you’ve heard about the cute lemur – it’s being screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre until 1 September.

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