This fizzy, sometimes hilarious, French film sums up its protagonist early on with a scene that manages the tricky business of persuading us to sympathise with a landlady in her dispute with a tenant. Is “dispute” really the word? The eponymous Anaïs (the busy Anaïs Demoustier, owning everyone around her) doesn’t seem to understand it’s important that she has not paid rent for some months. We get the sense of a youngish person used to cruising past the everyday requirements of life on waves of beauty and insouciant charm.
She is, frankly, infuriating. The protagonists of Lady Bird and The Worst Person in the World seem, by comparison, like avatars of empathy. She will kick a conquest out of the flat because she can’t bear sleeping beside another person. Other folk must help get her bike into the lift because she will only take the stairs. “You don’t realise what human interaction is,” her former partner says after she drops a bombshell with characteristic indifference.
Yet few watching will wonder why so many give her so much leeway. Anaïs has such unquestioning belief in her own worldview that she causes friends, lovers and employers to wonder if they are the ones being unreasonable. This tension sets off some beautiful comic set pieces. The Korean couple who end up subletting her flat can’t quite grasp the root of their host’s apparent eccentricity. Is it just to do with being French?
[ ‘My curiosity made me want to meet the wife of the man I was having an affair with’ ]
Shot in a Paris that, despite apparent blazing heat, never seems sweaty and a countryside that abounds with the sort of water that post-impressionists much enjoy, Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s debut feature offers superficial reminders of Eric Rohmer, but the humour — and more serious juxtapositions — are closer in tone to Woody Allen at his best (a director much admired by the French, of course). The supporting performances are up to the standards of Demoustier’s lead turn. Denis Podalydès is frayed as the older man she hooks up with before dumping him and lunging for his intellectual wife (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, being the grown up). That relationship triggers a somewhat jarring shift in tone for the last 20 minutes, but the central character remains appallingly, delightfully, maddeningly fascinating.
A perfect late-summer diversion.