Movie Review: The Cruelest Coquette — “Anais in Love”

A generation ago, “Amelie,” the cheerful fantasy about a Paris coquette’s charmed life, became quite the five-time Oscar nominated punching bag, hated for its adorable and adorably-optimistic heroine.

Coquettes got a bad name in the cinema after that. Gamines took it on the chin.

Actress turned director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet has her revenge on Audrey Tatou and the all the gamines, coquettes and Parisian pixies the cinema has produced with “Anaïs in Love,” an amusing/maddening little exercise in pixie-puncturing.

Bourgeois-Tacquet’s star and titular muse is Anaïs Demoustier, far enough over 30 to not seem a natural fit for this childish, impulsive, cute and quirky college coed who sets hearts aflutter and creditors, lovers and landlords’ teeth on edge.

Anaïs bolts, late, into her flat, insisting to her landlady that “I HATE being late” (in French with English subtitles) as she dashes from room to room, checks the time repeatedly and chatters on about the lover who just moved out, how unsuited she is for marriage, how she wants to truly feel and understand passion and love and how she’s “not a thief,” she will catch up on her rent.

She sloppily installs a smoke detector — which falls on the landlord — and voila, she’s gone! Off to a party where she can’t go upstairs until somebody’s willing to ride with her, her bike and the increasingly crumbled flowers she brings for the hostess in an elevator. Because they spook her.

She’s a graduate student, and that elevator mate, 50ish Daniel (Denis Podalydès), is an academic a bit smitten by her “carefree” ways — stretching out a wrenched knee (she climbed the stairs rather than ride the elevator, sticking him with her bicycle) mid party, etc. More on him in a moment.

Because POOF, she’s off to the movies with the sullen ex Raoul (Christophe Montenez), only she’s late and they’ve missed it. Fiddle dee dee. And by the way, I’m pregnant. Do you think I should have the “vacuum treatment” here (in Paris) or back home where I can see my family OB-GYN?

Raoul’s “Wait, WHAT?” is met with an “I’m just unlucky, I guess.” Bad luck, missing a week’s worth of birth control pills.

Everything just washes off Anaïs like that — thesis requirements for her paper on how “passion” was portrayed in 17th century French lit, the unemotional, sexually-flatlining affair she starts with Daniel, even the news that her mother’s cancer has returned.

When she helps her brother, who fears he’s killed his traveling girlfriend’s hyperactive pet lemur by giving him a Xanax, we realize ditziness runs in the family.

But the moment her salmon-like attention turns away from Mom (Anne Canovas), Anaïs focuses her obsessive gaze not on Daniel or her schoolwork or her obligations, but on Daniel’s longtime love, a famous writer, Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi).

Might that be the solution to our heroine’s lack of focus and passion? An older woman? Or a menage a trois? Like, you know, her possible literary namesake, Anais Nin?

Bourgeois-Tacquet finds droll laughs in Anaïs’ inane over-sharing, questioning and self-absorption. Her “By the way, I’m pregnant” bombshell gets a scolding from a dismayed ex, prompting her to storm off with “You’re too violent in your inertia!”

Daniel’s “I love my life and don’t want to change it” plea prompts her to spit “Bourgeois cliche!” at him.

Emilie is puzzled by all these times she runs into this girlish “fan,” but her “What do you want from me?” doesn’t phase or even interrupt Anaïs in her running list of suggestions, desires and delusional self-analysis that means they should be together.

And every time you turn around, this “stuck” childish woman is doing something else that makes you roll your eyes — lying left and right (“I never lie!”), lighting candles, just as she told her landlord she’d done when she almost set her family’s house on fire as a child, setting off the smoke alarm mid-lovemaking, smashing the smoke alarm rather than figuring out which button to punch and irresponsibly renting out her flat to Korean tourists while she goes home and travels to a symposium to get closer to Emilie.

Yeah, it’ll all work out. Sure.

It’s not a bon bon or a comic delight. But Bourgeois-Tacquet and her muse Demoustier give coquettes, gamines and manic pixie dream girls (a Hollywood staple) the kind of butt-kicking all those people who misguidedly hated poor Amelie for decades ago longed for.

Pretty? Flighty? Sexy? Adorable? Of course. But it takes a lot of work by a lot of stupidly-compliant enablers to let this sort of free spirit run roughshod over every psyche she meets. One gets the feeling that her “gather ye rosebuds” expiration date is here, no matter how things work out for her by the closing credits.

Rating: unrated, sex, nudity, profanity

Cast: Anaïs Demoustier, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Denis Podalydès, Xavier Guelfi and Anne Canovas

Credits:Scripted and directed by Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:38

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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