‘Anaïs in Love’ is balmy, half-baked romance

Photo of two women walking.
Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

“You don’t realize what human interaction is,” Anaïs’ soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Raoul (Christophe Montenez), tells her in Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s breezy, muted debut “Anaïs in Love.”

It’s a line that initiates a fissure in the film’s narrative which has, until this point, been tightly bound to Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier) and her insular world ruled by a specter of residual naivete following her into adulthood. Anaïs is unaware of her immaturity, save for an indistinct silhouette of mid-20s malaise. Raoul breaks up with her and Anaïs immediately begins sleeping with an older married man. 

For the remainder of the film, she flits around France in flimsy sundresses, making one bad decision after another. This propensity for bad decision making is not objectionable in and of itself. For expository purposes, a protagonist that is fervently inclined to self sabotage her personal and professional relationships is perversely refreshing — a microdose of schadenfreude. 

Yet, Anaïs’ harebrained nature is unfettered and unending. After sleeping with Daniel (Denis Podalydès), she bails on the symposium she is coordinating (despite not being able to install a smoke alarm, she somehow seems to have a burgeoning academic career). Anaïs illegally sublets an apartment she cannot afford to a Korean couple before absconding to the French countryside, driven by an unprecedented and burning infatuation with Daniel’s wife, and successful writer, Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). Herein lies the “in love” bit.

Anaïs’ attraction to Emilie is bifurcated, manifesting on both a primal, sexual level and an erudite one. Emilie’s status as both lover and foil limits her, and makes her reciprocal interest in Anaïs seem far-fetched. Bourgeois-Tacquet fans the flames of their strange romance for most of the run time. It takes several close encounters — including one in a secret room of a bed and breakfast papered with images of lesbian pornography — before anything sparks. When it does, it’s less spark and more sputter — a lethargic, sandy sex scene that is both literally and figuratively anticlimactic.

The past few years have seen a renaissance of stories that rip the coming-of-age paradigm from its high school setting and sew it anew onto an early adulthood narrative. Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” and Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” both confer with wry incisiveness the perils of growing up in an age of insurmountable atomization.

Both of these works suggest that the way to ameliorate highly modern pressure points is via a renunciation of careerism and a renewed investment in relationships. They display an acute understanding of the ways in which young people internalize and sublimate the crises of modernity. “Anaïs in Love” is more opaque in rationalizing its heroine’s airheaded floundering for stasis. Instead, audiences are left adrift without anything resembling context.

The film intermittently salvages itself from unilateral mundanity by representing desire with an urgency that subverts expectations. This urgency runs counter to the languid, unburdened pacing of the movie, which spends ample time meandering through vignettes that may not bear any import to the narrative, but ornament its protagonist’s life. Though they lack utility, they lend a welcome air of reality and a perfumed backdrop.

“Anaïs In Love” doesn’t aspire to be more than it is. Even the poster for the film — which depicts Anaïs and Emilie wading into a candy floss sunset with a retrousse red typeface — acknowledges this. It’s cute, and embodies a certain millennial zeitgeist, the kind that endears yuppie 20-somethings to audiences in spite of their stultifying narcissism and lack of social adroitness. Still, to many this formula simply doesn’t cohere, even when animated with a singular, legible vision.

However, the formula does impress upon those who, even subliminally, see themselves as a variable. Their choice to adulate their own experiences is thus a natural progression of events. Still, these narratives have become fatigued. The film positions its only point of intrigue as its lesbian romance, an insufficient measure given its lack of depth and inchoate narratives.

Emma Murphree covers film. Contact her at [email protected].