What makes Anaïs run — and run? That’s the question slyly teased in “Anaïs in Love,” a French romance about a woman’s winding voyage toward self-discovery. Much like Anaïs herself, the contours of that journey at first seem transparently obvious: She’s young, self-absorbed, exceedingly restless, and she just needs to get her act together. Yet while all this frenetic motion can seem mildly charming (just like her), it can also be exasperating (also like her), which makes Anaïs and this movie more intriguing than they initially appear.
The first time you see the fast-moving Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier in a mercurial, full-bodied performance), she’s a colorful blur sprinting toward her Paris apartment, the camera and soundtrack racing with her. A grad student, Anaïs is behind in the rent and rushing to meet her landlord. She has an explanation, of course, and, as her bewildered landlord encourages her to pay up, Anaïs scurries about the flat, detailing her problems, changing her clothes and installing a fire alarm, a portend of conflagrations to come. Words fly as does Anaïs, who within minutes has dashed out, having tested the patience of landlord and viewer alike.
The writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, making her feature debut, handles the opener with economy, confidence, light comedy and a feel for choreographed chaos. Even so, as Anaïs continued to sprint and scurry, I crankily scribbled in my notes that the filmmaker was testing our patience with this chick. I was right, though not exactly. What took a while to grasp is that it isn’t necessary to like Anaïs. What’s crucial is that you stick with her, that you listen to what she says and doesn’t say, that you look beneath the skittishness to get a handle on what drives this woman — that you see her for who she is.
“Anaïs in Love” seems straightforward. It looks clear and bright, and moves as briskly as its protagonist, with the editing and lively music doing more conspicuous work than the discreet cinematography. Bourgeois-Tacquet is working within an early 21st-century realist Euro-art-film idiom, and the world she creates is familiar, precise and attractive. There isn’t a point or plot, or so it seems, just loosely strung together scenes in which Anaïs zips here and there, visiting people and places. As she does, Anaïs emerges piecemeal in conversations and in her good and bad choices, a fragmentation that encourages you to fit the whirring parts together.