(Barnaby Southcombe, 2012)
(Originally posted at Lost in the Multiplex)
Transcending an industrious career in television, Barnaby Southcombe makes his feature filmmaking debut with I, Anna (2012) based on Elsa Lewin’s novel; a noirish, pseudo-psychological thriller set in a moody contemporary London and starring Charlotte Rampling, Southcombe’s off-screen mother. Collating and using as inspiration the work of his personal heroes of French cinema, chiefly the moody and minimalist crime dramas that made up a large portion of Jean-Pierre Melville’s filmography, Southcombe here has developed an atmospheric and bluntly tragic tale of loneliness and repression, yet whatever progress he makes visually is hampered by an uninspiring screenplay latched to a narrative that is too impenetrable for its own good.
Rampling stars as the titular Anna, a hushed divorcee with a seductive yet vulnerable disposition, who peruses swanky speed-dating evenings in an attempt to burst her isolated bubble. She is that most established form of femme fatale: a guarded woman trapped by a secret buried deep within her psyche, a secret that threatens her relationship with both herself and those around her. Her life becomes intersected with that of Gabriel Byrne’s troubled, detached detective Bernie, however, when she awakens, blood-soaked, next to the body of her latest conquest, and the subsequent investigation leads the two lost souls into a tangled web of passion, intrigue and deceit.
Ostensibly a straightforward story of a meandering murder case, complete with investigative detectives (namely Eddie Marsan’s dedicated D.I) and a soundtrack by French electronic band K.I.D (which adds to the film’s moody charisma), the dark nuances at play in I, Anna slowly ebb away under the cool and calculating surfaces only to build to a conclusion that is as incomprehensible as it is unnecessarily convoluted. Southcombe takes a stellar approach to balancing his two estimable leads against the backdrop of a jagged, stark Barbican (which looks highly cinematic in many of cinematographer Ben Smithard’s composed shots), yet he fails at making the feeling of ambiguity that permeates throughout the screenplay as riveting as he clearly believes, and more importantly wants, it to be.
The disc, which is neatly assembled by Artificial Eye, comes with a selection of deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer, as well as a typically pithy but uninformative making-of featurette that saves the deeper anecdotes and collaborative illuminations for the commentary shared by Southcombe and Rampling.