• Interviews

Exploring the Force of Desire: “Anaïs in Love”

Anaïs in Love is a romantic comedy and the debut feature film by French director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet. The 36-year-old director’s film is about Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier), who is having a hard time making decisions in her life. She is 30 years old, lives in an apartment on her own and struggles to pay the rent as her lover (Xavier Guelfi) has moved out at her request. This, however, does not seem to worry her when the landlord comes asking her to pay, and she comes across as spoiled and irresponsible in a meeting between the two in her apartment.

Anaïs is irresponsible all around. She feels she has fallen out of love with her lover but still keeps him “on the side,” yet at the same time hardly bothers to tell him that she has become pregnant and wants an abortion. When she meets an older man Daniel (Denis Podalydès) at a private party, he falls immediately for her and they have an affair. But when he cannot commit to her because he does not want to lose his life with his partner Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who is an accomplished writer, Anaïs is curious to find out why he has chosen Emilie over her. So she approaches her and ends up falling for her – demanding that she return the love. Anaïs is now for once determined to achieve one thing in life and will stop at nothing to get it.


We spoke to Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet about her heroine, and what inspired her to create her.

In your film Anaïs in Love, the main character Anaïs is a very impulsive 30-year-old-woman, who follows her instincts and deals with life’s problems in a very frivolous way. What inspired you to create this character?

First of all, I wanted to portray a young woman whose main characteristic is to follow her desires. A young woman who follows her urges her impulses, and who lives in the present, without considering the future without thinking about the consequences, meaning in a way, without being afraid of the consequences, and therefore, not being afraid, period.

This was very important for me, as I wanted to address the mechanisms of desire, or rather of the power of desire. In the way it put us all in motion – it functions as an engine in our lives. And Anaïs is a character who is constantly moving, which dictates the way the film is directed.

However, I don’t think Anaïs only reacts superficially to her problems. When confronted with adversity – for instance when she is dealing with her mother’s illness – it is obvious that she is affected, but her way of dealing with it is not to dwell on it, not to feel sorry for herself. It is like the idea of perpetual motion: it is also a way to forge ahead, a means of survival. If Anaïs stops, she falls down. If she thinks about the painful things that happen to her, she risks collapsing. Rather than seeing superficiality, I would hope the audience would keep in mind the life-affirming impulse of the character.

You could also say that Anaïs is selfish, reckless and irresponsible, as she does not seem to be too concerned with other people’s needs or feelings. Was this intentional and is it a comment on her generation of women, as they mature from youth to adulthood?

I think the previous answer sheds enough light on this aspect of the character.

By the way, I do need to say that the movie is partly a comedy and that Anaïs is, in numerous sequences and especially in the first part, a comic character. I worked hard on the excesses of the character, in order to have Anaïs make us laugh. I wanted her to be both irresistible and unbearable. So, yes, she has a selfish side, and she’s even a bit borderline, for instance when she talks about her life to strangers: all this is intentional, but really is a part of the comic side of the film.

What might perhaps be a characteristic of her generation, which is also mine, is her attitude to life, which is to live solely in the present. The horizon seems so blocked, the future so uncertain, that we end up saying, let’s take advantage of what life has to offer right there and now…

Anaïs is constantly on the move. She is rushing through life, but it seems that she finds more peace with Emilie as there is a change in the film’s rhythm when she discovers her – actually the change happens just before she meets her. What did you want to convey with the pace of the film?

The main challenge of making this film for me was the mix of tonalities.  I wanted it to be a comedy with all of the frenzied pace that that implies, and also a sentimental film, a story of love and of personal desire which is portrayed at the primary level. It was obvious that rhythm was going to be very important in that balance between the genres.  As you mention, a change happens when Emily appears, because she brings her own tempo to the film, and it is very different from that of Anaïs. Emily is a 56-year-old woman, accomplished, powerful, who has matured beyond Anaïs’ existential worries.  And also, because a real personal connection is, I think, something that stops you in your tracks, and that is the story I wanted to tell. The birth of a love, of a desire, so intense, that they take a considerable weight and density. It is the reason the second part of the film develops more slowly, with the idea that you discover a new depth to the story. The depth of Anaïs, the depth of her relationship with Emilie.

Anaïs in Love is your debut feature film, but you have made two short films before this: the last one is called Pauline Enslaved (2018), in which Anaïs Demoustier also played the lead character too. Why did you cast her for the role of Anaïs?

When I was younger, I wanted to be an actress. I started to write short films so I could act in them, which I did. And, naturally, the films I wrote were always inspired by me, my personality, my obsessions, my personal tempo, my way of speaking. I did not go to film school. I learned everything, in a very organic fashion. My first short film, Pauline asservie, was the first one to be produced, and at that time it seemed important to me to concentrate on directing. So, I looked for an actress to play the main part, and I immediately thought of Anaïs Demoustier whom I did not know but whose work I admired. We have seen her play many roles of young women, usually soft and contemplative. When I met her for coffee, I discovered she was extremely vivacious, funny, witty, very close to the character I wrote. We realized we had many things in common. The shooting of the short film was a delight because Anaïs is a tremendous actress: she’s very technical and is able at the same time to memorize pages and pages of script, while very precisely understanding the choreography of the sequences, and can also disappear within all those constraints in the most natural way, sensitive, nuanced, subtle and moving…She also has an innate sense of rhythm, which is very precious in comedy. While making Pauline asservie, we both realized we’d found our alter ego in cinema. And we wanted to follow up this artistic collaboration. It was obvious that I would cast her in my full-length feature film.

Emilie is a writer and belongs to a world of intellectuals and publishers. It is a world that you know well, I believe. What is your interest in this world?

I grew up in the provinces, with a mother who taught English and a father who was a furniture importer. Then, at 17, I went to live in Paris, where I studied literature for some time, and, somehow, I went to work for the publishing house Grasset. I stayed there three years. So, yes, between my studies at the Sorbonne, and my years in publishing, I became quite familiar with that world of intellectuals and writers, although it was not the world of my childhood. It is not so much that it’s a milieu that fascinates me, but that it’s something I know well, from the inside, and this is why my film takes place there. I am obsessed by the desire to have my work ring true and, therefore, I did not want to try to describe a world I was not close to.

But obviously, the reason I am close to that world, is that I am passionate about literature and writing. It was very stimulating to portray characters who had decided to dedicate their lives to that. I found it beautiful to tell a story of love and desire that is also about intellectual compatibility, and a shared passion for literature and the life of the mind.

The city of Paris and the beautiful landscape of France plays a big role in the film. Explain how location is important to the film?

The film begins in Paris, where all the protagonists live, and then moves to the Brittany countryside and the seaside, where Anaïs follows Emily! I wanted to show something opening up in the space, in the settings. That we go from the city, with all its frantic and oppressive feel, to nature, and, specifically, to a nature which is in bloom. There is a tranquil sense of permanence in those landscapes, with their beauty, that could echo the slowing of pace that we were talking about earlier.

I also wanted the movie to take place in the summer, in order to show how the story between Anaïs and Emilie develops in nature. It is probably very subjective, but for me, nature and sun, the summer light, have something very sensual, very erotic. I knew this would bring a lot to the scenes between the two women.

You worked with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who plays Emilie. She is also a director. Did you talk to her about the art of directing? Did you inspire each other?

I admired Valeria’s work as a director tremendously. Her film Un château en Italie has meant a lot to me, especially in the mixing of the tones. The filming of Amours d’Anaïs, started with the scenes between Anaïs and Valeria. I was rather intimidated the first time I had to direct Valeria. I was probably afraid she was going to judge my way of working, as a newcomer, or that she would not appreciate my way of directing her… But all went marvelously well. I think she loved the script, she loved her character, and she trusted me. I was overwhelmed by what she gave to the film, especially in the dancing and love sequences. She was so very generous. Since you ask me about her, I can tell you an anecdote. Valeria had told me she did not want to watch the movies she had acted in. She had decided that, in order to feel free on set, she should not think about the end result. She held to that decision for a while, but when the film was selected for the Critics’ Week at Cannes, I begged her at least to come and see the first 30 minutes of the film, in which she is not on screen. And, finally, she stayed until the end of the screening, and she loved seeing herself in that role, including the love scene. I was so very pleased. What we have done together is inspiring, the work relationship we built nourished me, and she and I want to meet up again.

Being a female director, do you feel you face certain challenges?

I will tell you something I’ve only told my friends until now… I made this film in the year I turned 34, and until then, I had never experienced misogyny. Overseeing a team in which there were men much older and experienced than me, I understood what it meant not to be taken seriously as a woman.  Some consider that your demands are not justified, that you’re being capricious or whatever, and I was disgusted by that.

Besides that, I would like to go on working on the representation of desire, sensuality, eroticism, from the point of view of my sensitivity as a woman. It seems there is a territory to reinvest.

And I must say I am naturally interested – in my work, but also in my life, as a reader or audience member – much more in women, in women’s characters than in men’s characters and male actors. So, I think, I will keep making films about women. More than a challenge, this is a desire, and, if you will, a mission: to represent free-spirited women who don’t ask anybody for permission to do what they want to do. Because this is the key: not with words, but with action.