Immediately setting a buoyant, vibrant tone that carries through the rest of the film, Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s Anaïs in Love makes one of 2022’s finest debuts. The French comedy is a story of waywardness and desire told with an optimistic view, following a spirited young woman (a great Anaïs Demoustier) who begins an affair with an older man (Denis Podalydès) and then falls in love with his novelist wife (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi).

Ahead of Anaïs‘ U.S. release I spoke with the writer-director about being inspired by Catherine Deneuve, the breathless cinematography, why she included a clip from John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, and establishing a tone.

The Film Stage: For your main character, played by Anaïs Demoustier, you kept the same first name. Did you write the film with her in mind? And how did she shape the project?

Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet: So Anaïs Demoustier and I have been working together since 2018, when I approached her with the short film that we began with. But when I approached with a short film, a feature film was already in the works. She already knew about it and when we finished Pauline asservie––which is the name of the short film, and t’s a comedy about romantic alienation––coming out of that character, Anaïs told me that she had so much fun playing the part that she asked me to go back to the script of the feature film and inflect this new character so that it would be closer to the one that she had just played.

So to answer your question: I wasn’t writing with her in mind because the character is quite close to me and to my personality and my life, but not only was it sort of twisted and remolded to her demand, but I knew that she would be the one acting it from the get-go and that gave me a lot of freedom to write with because she’s such a great actress that I could trust that she would carry a lot of these things. 

You mentioned you were inspired by both Catherine Deneuve and Katharine Hepburn for the fast-talking and liveliness of the performance. Are there any specific performances or roles from them that you looked at when crafting this character?

That’s not exactly how it happened. In terms of Katharine Hepburn, that’s something that was externally sort of brought to me, with people having seen the film making that connection to her. And I was very pleased because she’s an actress that I like a lot, whose films I saw a lot growing up, but it wasn’t present in my writing. Whereas Catherine Deneuve, the inspiration had something to do with her character in [Jean-Paul] Rappeneau’s Le Sauvage [Lovers Like Us] where she’s also this sort of young woman who is both unbearable and irresistible and who moves around very quickly around the room and who speaks very quickly. And so that energy was something that I had in mind that I didn’t watch again in writing the script either. So I would think that there is sort of like a loose genealogy in these ways, but they are not direct inspirations.

That sense of like liveliness and unexpected nature of where your characters are headed—the cinematography really guides it well. You had mentioned looking at Eric Gautier’s work. And as a viewer it feels effortless, but there’s obviously a lot of work that goes into it. Can you talk about that process?

So I’m very happy that you bring up Eric Gautier because he’s a very important reference for both me and my DP [Noé Bach]. And even on the short film we worked on together, this DP knew somehow from reading the script, before we even talked, that Eric Gautier was a reference of mine, despite the script being just dialogue. Which was quite impressive. And somehow he understood that my way of working––or my desire for this, because this was the first time around––was to bring from the text this physical energy and that words become a vehicle that sort of urges the movement forward. And so working with him, we were quite clear, then, on these references and knowing that sort of speed and movement and energy were the keywords that we wanted to work on.

And so I did rewatch quite a few things that Gautier has framed or lit, whether it’s Desplechin’s films or Assayas’. Yes, and this was a conscious reference. And then in the working process, the way that I do it is that I will rehearse the movement of the scene myself as the actors—in this case, as Anaïs—and get either my assistant or my script supervisor to play the other part. And the DP with his phone will sort of follow us through. And so this is how I map an organic, necessary movement, because of course the very important thing is for the movement to be necessary. I know that if it’s not enough, it’s not justifiable and justified and the actors are just not going to be able to do it. So I find it for myself, physically, and then I give that over to them. That’s sort of the idea. And the last thing would be that I really like long shots and in small spaces—it’s another difficulty that we had to work around.

Speaking more about the characters, Valeria (Bruni Tedeschi) is not only a vehicle for Anaïs’ romantic desire, but also for her career dreams and looking toward the future. Can you talk about coming with this dynamic?

So Emilie was going to be this character with this depth and charisma, and in terms of her relationship with Anaïs, I really wanted the audience to understand where her obsession comes from––that needed to be clear and communicated to everyone. And I think that in some ways the age difference between them is a very important aspect of this attraction and of the kind of infatuation that she experiences, because she is projecting onto her a sort of possibility for her own future. And so this was the sort of the genesis of that projection that Anaïs has to Emilie. It’s seeing a woman who in some ways is accomplished––the word “accomplished” was a sort of very important part of my thinking, because it was looking at somebody who had succeeded in negotiating experience and who in many different ways, whether it was in her romantic life or in sort of the rhythm of her professional life or one of these things.

So these are all aspects that sort of justify and nourish the relationship that Anaïs has with Emily. And then, in terms of their intellectual complicity,  I think they have a lot in common, but they have very different ways of inscribing themselves in the temporality and have a very different relationship to it. And Anaïs is very much in the present, in this way. Whereas Emilie has more of an overarching view, an almost kind of panoramic view. And so it’s a different relationship to time in this way, which is why I’m so fond of the last scene where these different views meet and have this moment of confrontation. Because I think that beyond the sensual and erotic story that I felt between them, I was really interested in talking about transmission. That last scene is a scene of transmission that was really, really close to my heart.

You also feature Cassavetes’ Opening Night in this film. What does that film mean to you, and what are the correlations with this story?

The film Opening Night is very important to me in my life—as is A Woman Under the Influence—and so what I knew from quite early on in the writing is that I wanted to have at least one scene happening in the movie theater. I wanted one scene with these three characters all sitting together in the darkness of a cinema. So I had this idea of having this moment for Emilie’s character, who would be asked to speak of a writer and who instead would speak of an actress, because Gena Rowlands plays an actress in this film. And so I would say that the reason for this film was sort of threefold.

The first is personal because it really is a film that is so, so important to me in a personal matter. And there’s this question that I’ve sort of already mentioned with your previous question of age and aging—because Gena Rowland’s character in Opening Night is an actress who refuses to play characters of a certain age because she’s afraid that that’s going to commit her to that category forever. And because she has this whole sort of moment of having to face the fear of having expired as an artist. And so because of the age difference between Emilie and Anaïs, that consideration was going to come up at some point. And I didn’t want to address it head-on, but I wanted to suggest that reflection through that.

And then I would say to the last reason for all four for the choice of this film is that for me, Valeria [Bruni Tedeschi] is a great actress who is of the same sort of family and vein as Gena Rowlands and so I wanted to to to play with the juxtaposition and the consecutive viewing of their faces and their blondness and this thing in nature that I find that they share, that I wanted to pay homage to.

This depiction of millennial waywardness, in American films, a lot of times it feels like the director or writer is kind of looking down on it and judging it. But I love in this film how there’s no judgment. Can you talk about taking this more optimistic look at aimlessness?

I would say it is a very delicate question of how to craft this character who, because of the way that she is and because indeed she isn’t so set on certain things in her life—what she’s going to do with it—she carries herself and acts in such a way which, at times, can be unpleasant or be read as selfish in certain things. And so this was always a line that I was sort of conscious of in allowing her to unfold in an honest way.

What I think that I look upon with friendship in her way of dealing with this way of being is her commitment to her desire and the energy with which she lets this desire drive her forward, which for me has everything to do with really like a sort of life drive and an essential vitality that is perhaps where she also finds redemption in the eyes of all of that. And so that is what I’m sympathetic to and what I think is her strength is and that can only work without the elaboration of plans.

To end on the beginning, I really love the opening credits, with the title sequence you have. It sets a perfect tone for the film in terms of the vibrancy with the flowers and colors but also the speed of the film. Can you talk about crafting those?

I’m glad that you bring this up because you’re the first person to talk about it and, as you’re going to see, there is an answer. The whole film for me has two halves, where the first half has this whirlwind sort of quality of color and speed and this sort of agitation and vitality that then sort of settles in the second half where we land in a more peaceful zone with the sentiments that we have reached through the first half. And so the starting of the film and then the first images sort of needed to turn on the carnival of the first half. There’s the beginning of it that needed that same pace. And the idea came in the editing room to have flowers and I wouldn’t exactly be able to tell you where that came from.

I just sort of spoke about it with my editor and we looked at the fact that it was quite coherent with the rest of the film, where there were actually a lot of flowers, whether it’s in the dresses or the set, and then of course in nature itself. And so it was quite welcome. And this is something that we started sort of working on, but then eventually it sort of took on a life of its own because I went to a graphic artist with whom I really worked with looking for the kinds of flowers that were going to be. And then once the flowers were decided upon, there was also quite a lot of work to do in terms of finding the ways for the names to become apparent onto them so that they will all be the same. But they weren’t so different that it would be very aggressive for the eyes. So it really was a lot of work, and I’m happy that I can now pay some tribute to that effort today.

Anaïs in Love opens in theaters on April 29 and arrives on VOD on May 6.

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