‘Anaïs in Love’: French Rom-Com Follows a Woman’s Tumultuous Quest for Intimacy

The title character in the French romantic comedy “Anaïs in Love,” wins over the audience and a middle-aged couple with her fun energy and charm. If you do not relate to Anaïs (played by Anaïs Demoustier), you probably know someone like her, a young person not entirely satisfied in her life who is constantly looking for a distraction. She thinks she finds it after she meets an older man, publisher Daniel (Denis Podalydès), at a party. The two have an affair, but it is not Daniel whom Anaïs ends up following hard for, but his long-term girlfriend, writer Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). What starts off as a girl crush transforms into something deeper, even life-altering.

When we first meet Anaïs, 30, she has a lot on her plate. A literature grad student who recently separated from her husband, she is struggling financially and is having trouble paying rent. “Anaïs in Love” was written and directed by a woman, Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, and while Anaïs has been described as being a manic pixie dream girl by some, she is actually a lot more complex than that. If the story was told from the POV of Daniel or Raoul (Christophe Montenez), Anaïs’ estranged husband, she might come off as a MPDG, at least in the beginning. But she is an intelligent woman with her quirks, some more endearing than others. She rides her bike around Paris because her claustrophobia means that she won’t ride the train. She also doesn’t like to share a bed, which was an issue in her marriage. 

Early on, Anaïs shows up late for a rendez-vous with Raoul, and casually mentions she is pregnant with his child and has already made an appointment for an abortion. Naturally, he is taken back by the news and how she tells him, and he responds by telling her that she doesn’t know how to have a human interaction. This is a harsh assessment, but we come to see a lot of Anaïs’ behavior, which can be interrupted as her being selfish, is actually a coping mechanism, such as when she initially pulls away from her mother (Anne Canovas) after discovering she’s had a cancer relapse. We see Anaïs go for her abortion appointment, as it is treated here as any other medical appointment. In a lot of recent films, particularly American ones, unexpected pregnancies and abortions are mostly played for melodrama, so it is refreshing to see Bourgeois-Tacquet normalize the procedure.

One thing for certain is that Anaïs has an issue with boundaries, as she babbles about her personal life to her landlady (Marie-Armelle Deguy) and thesis advisor (Grégoire Oestermann), and it is amusing to watch as she throws both off by asking intrusive questions. Then there’s Daniel. From the start of their sexual affair, it is obvious that neither is in it for the long haul. He’s a diversion for her, and he treats her like a casual mistress, even though he talks about leaving Emilie for her early on. He says he has a habit of staying with women for 12 years, and he’s at the 12-year mark with his current lady. Suffice to say, we don’t feel too sorry for him when Anaïs turns her attention to Emilie. It is natural for her to be curious about the other woman, and she starts by snooping around in her bathroom, then she reads her book and becomes convinced that they are literary soulmates. She manufactures a meeting, and before long she ditches her work study responsibilities to follow the older woman to a writer’s conference.

Although Anaïs’ behavior is stalkerish, her desire to be liked and accepted by someone in her field whom she admires is relatable. However, she wants more than a mentor-mentee relationship, and after some hesitation on her part and interference from Daniel, Emilie allows a sensuous affair to blossom. While Emilie is the woman Anaïs wants to become, Anaïs is the woman wishes she had been. The seaside location of the conference is an ideal setting for a romance, but real life awaits afterwards.

Like most lesbian love stories in film, “Anaïs in Love” doesn’t have a perfect fairy tale ending. After so much build-up, the actual romance only makes up a small portion of the film, and the same mundane reasons that a lot of heteorsexual affairs end threaten the relationship. The ending stirs up mixed emotions, and Bourgeois-Tacquet leaves room for the viewer to imagine what goes down after the credits roll.

Anaïs in Love” releases April 29 in select theaters and May 6 on VOD.