Director: Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet (France). Year of Release: 2022
Anaïs announces herself from the off as une Manique Pixie Reve Fille. Always in a rush, arriving late with a few apologies but no sign that she’ll ever change. She won’t usually use lifts or the Metro because she’s claustrophobic, and is too neurotic to get into a lift on her own. She’s doing a doctorate in 17th Century Descriptions of Passion, not that you’d notice it from anything she says. Everybody loves her, of course, because she’s young and pretty, but mainly because this is a film.
We see a typical scene early on with her on-off (soon to be permanently off) boyfriend. She arrives too late to see the film they were watching, natch, and after quite a bit of chit-chat, she mentions in passing that she’s pregnant. Not to worry, she’s having it dealt with. The boyfriend is outraged because she’s not allowing him to determine what she does with her body, but rather than justify herself by talking about bodily autonomy, she grins and gives a “What am I Like?” simper.
Anaïs is permanently broke, so it’s just as well that she has a landlady unlike any which exist in the Real World (a couple of months behind on your rent again? No worries, we’ll sort something out) and rich parents and Godparents who can help her out by finding her jobs that she never ends up turning up to. This is supposed to show her happy-go-lucky nature (at once stage she says ““My problem is I’m too carefree,””. but really lets slip her utter privilege.
Anaïs drifts into a relationship with Daniel, a married publisher 20 years older then her, because of course everyone finds her irresistible. Once she discovers that Daniel won’t wait for when she needs him, she drifts out of love and becomes infatuated with his wife Emilie, a novelist. Seeing Emilie in the street and recognising her from a painting in her house, Anaïs introduces herself, looking every inch the unhinged stalker. Emilie does not move away as quickly as she can.
Now fixated with Emilie, Anaïs books herself into a 5-day symposium where Emilie is speaking. Being Anaïs, she can’t afford a bed, so they let her work there to pay off her bill, just like any above average hotel in real life would do. Of course Anaïs rarely turns up to do any of this work, and of course the hotel people look on a little disapprovingly, but no-one throws her out of her room. It really isn’t that sort of film.
Although Anaïs’s obsession with Emilie starts by being merely pathological, eventually it becomes physical. And just like all the other relationships in the film, you are not convinced that the protagonists like, let alone love, each other. There is no sign of mutual attraction. But we need a brief affair between Anaïs and Emilie before we get to the end of the film, so this is what we get.
At one stage, Emilie asks Anaïs “are you real?”, which of course she isn’t, unless you want to argue that tropes are real. But Anaïs says yes, and the characters on screen continue to act as if their behaviour has anything in common with what actually happens in real life. Anaïs is provided with a brother with a lemur which is sick because he fed it with Xanax. Because, of course she is. Films like this depend on things like sick lemurs.
On one level, I blame Amélie, a film that I enjoyed when it came out as much as the next person. As it happens, it’s playing in the open air cinema next month, and I’m slightly worried that it will turn out to be much more saccharine and sentimental than I remember. But until then, allow me to believe that it was a perfectly serviceable and entertaining film.
Nonetheless, much of what has been shown us in Amélie’s wake has been appalling. The idea that you can cast a good looking young woman and give her some Quirk – that is make her behave sociopathically – means that you don’t have to worry about plot and character development. It’s now been over 20 years since Amélie was released and they are still making films like this, which don’t have 1% of Amelie’s charm (as far as I remember). Isn’t it time to now make this stop?
As I do, I’ve peeked at other reviews, one of which says the film “questions sexist impulses to judge Anaïs as narcissistic—would we label her as such if she were a male character?” Well, let me think. Anaïs leaves her mother who is coping with extended cancer treatment to go off on a jaunt. After a couple of days, she rings her mother how she’s doing, before hanging up to deal with a minor personal problem. Well, colour me sexist, but yes I’d also call a man out for such narcissism.
Anaïs is a walking cliché, a construct created by a writer who wants to hang a story on her slender shoulders. I’m not sure what the film is supposed to be. Is it a comedy? Well, there aren’t too many laughs. Is it a tragedy? Well the main suffering happens off stage, even though Anaïs tries to make it all about herself. I guess it’s just a corny love story. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe – I’m not really convinced.