‘My curiosity made me want to meet the wife of the man I was having an affair with’

The writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet on her film Anaïs in Love, filming sex scenes, and the ‘loosening’ of French society

Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet. Photograph: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty

It doesn’t matter how many words Karl Ove Knausgård has typed: the Norwegian Proust’s Min Kamp cycle arrived almost a generation after France fell hard for auto-fiction.

Titles including Christine Angot’s Incest, Marguerite Duras’s Practicalities, Françoise Sagan’s Toxique, and Hervé Guibert’s Aids memoir, To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, have all been best-sellers in a country where authors are rigorously protected by “liberté d’expression”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these writings are making their way into cinema. Last year, Audrey Diwan’s Happening, an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s 2000 autobiographical novel L’événement, won the Golden Lion at Venice.

Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s Anaïs in Love is not drawn from any literary source, but it still falls under the larger umbrella of auto-fiction.


“For some time, I had an affair with a man who was married, and he would speak quite a lot and openly about his wife to me because I was also involved in a relationship with a young man,” says the writer-director. “I started to grow very curious about this woman because I had the impression that she and I had a lot in common. When you talk about auto-fiction in literature — the sort of upshot of testimonies and intimate first personal accounts — that style is so specific to literature that I don’t see a bridge between that and my work. But the film is auto-fiction because my curiosity made me want to meet the wife, and that gave me the idea for the film as a love triangle, where a young woman becomes curious about her lover’s wife, and then falls in love with her.”

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Anaïs Demoustier in Anaïs in Love

Anaïs in Love introduces its title character (played by Anaïs Demoustier) in a whirlwind of activity and chatter. Armed with flowers, she talks (fast) about a romantic break-up and poor finances, then makes various propositions and inquiries about love, and gets completely undressed in an effort to distract her landlady from possibly evicting her.

She’s a bit of a mess. Her bike has to travel by elevator as she has lost the lock. She cites her mother’s cancer in order to get out of work. She embarks on an affair with Daniel (Denis Podalydès), a publisher, for no particular reason and then randomly develops a crush on the publisher’s partner, Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a successful author.

French Fleabag?

Watching her antics, it’s impossible not to think of some of Sharon Horgan’s more embarrassing comic creations and, indeed, of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.

“I hadn’t watched Fleabag when I wrote the script,” says Bourgeois-Tacquet. “When we were making the movie, people kept saying: ‘Oh, you should see this. It’s like your film.’ I enjoyed it afterwards, but it wasn’t an influence. I watched a lot of films again from New Wave right to the 1980s. I was really thinking about how likeable characters wasn’t a question that seemed to be in anybody’s mind at the time those films were made. If you watch Jean-Paul Rappeneau films, all of his characters are obnoxious and we still go along with them. Some of those films did very, very well commercially also. I would say I’m a lot more interested in writing characters that are complex and films that have more than one register.”

I was very, very delicate in my way of directing; in the way that I moved around their bodies. We talked about the way they were touching their wrists. I explained what I needed very carefully

In the years following the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the Me Too movement, there have been increasing calls for safeguards in the industry. Intimacy co-ordinators such as Ita O’Brien have developed guidelines — specifically the choreographing of intimate scenes, monitoring closed sets and working with prosthetics — while shooting simulated sex scenes at Amazon, BBC, HBO and Netflix.

Bourgeois-Tacquet found herself choreographing intimate scenes between Anaïs Demoustier and both Bruni Tedeschi and Podalydès without assistance from a professional.

“It was very clear as we were doing this that this process wasn’t going to be possible very much longer,” says the director. “Soon we are going to always have someone on set. And everything will be codified in the contract in advance. I was very, very delicate in my way of directing; in the way that I moved around their bodies. We talked about the way they were touching their wrists. I explained what I needed very carefully. I had insisted on rehearsing prior with the actresses in Paris and my DOP [director of photography]. We took two days of rehearsal to figure out what the actors are comfortable with and to get into a working rhythm together and allow the movement to flow. I was very aware of my position filming these two women for an erotic scene. I wanted to give them all the respect and space that they needed.”

‘Slightly intimidated’

Anaïs in Love marks Bourgeois-Tacquet’s second collaboration with Demoustier. The pair previously collaborated on the lovelorn short film Pauline Enslaved, in which Demoustier frets over a weekend in anticipation of a text from her lover. Working with industry veteran Valeria Bruni Tedeschi was, conversely, a new experience.

Bruni Tedeschi, a multilingual actor, director, and the sister of Carla Bruni, has to date won four David di Donatello Awards and a César as an actor, and has directed two films in Cannes’ Official Competition, including this year’s Forever Young.

“I was very happy that she accepted the role because I do consider her body of work to be part of my influences,” says Bourgeois-Tacquet. “Her film A Castle in Italy, for example, I must have seen three or four times. I really engage with its ability to meld different genres together, as it moves from comedy to gravity, which is something that I’m really interested in working on. But of course, as well as being happy I was also slightly intimidated, especially when she arrived on the first day of shooting. It was my first day of my first feature film ever. I had a lot of showing up to do, but I very quickly understood that she was positioning herself purely and only as an actress. She adopted a position of being equal to all of the other actors.”

I think it has been visible — gay men existing in public spaces in Paris. But not so many women together

Anaïs in Love was shown in the International Critics’ Week section at the 2021 Cannes Festival. During the same festival, Mia Hansen-Love (Bergman Island), Catherine Corsini (The Divide) and Julia Ducournau (Titane) competed in the official competition, with Titane winning out, making Ducournau only the second woman (following Jane Campion for The Piano) to take home the Palme d’Or.

Although the festival insists that films are selected strictly on merit and not on race or gender, there has been a slight improvement in representation since 2018, when 300 French artists — including Céline Sciamma, Lea Seydoux, Lily Rose Depp, Jacques Audiard, Robin Campillo — became signatories to the “5050 Pour 2020″ (50-50 by 2020) movement.

“There has been a noticeable shift in French society or at least a noticeable shift in social circles in Paris,” says Bourgeois-Tacquet. “I’m not going to extend this shift to the entire French territory because I think it’d be a lot to claim. But I think since maybe eight or nine years ago, there have been more films showing women loving each other in a way that doesn’t overdetermine them either. Films like Portrait of a Lady of Fire. Whether this is something that will last forever or not, something seems to have loosened. I think it has been visible — gay men existing in public spaces in Paris. But not so many women together. And that shift in the public eye has produced a shift that is noticeable in the cinema. What the relationship is between that and Me Too and 50-50 is I wouldn’t know exactly. But something has changed.”

Anaïs in Love opens August 19th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic