I, Anna – based on the eponymous Elsa Lewin novel – is director Barnaby Southcombe’s debut feature film, as he collaborates with his very own mother Charlotte Rampling, who takes on the title role in what is a thrilling neo-noir that is both stylish and taut in its approach. Working alongside a close family relative certainly appears to have triumphed this time around, although it must have made the bath scene somewhat uncomfortable to shoot.
Rampling plays Anna, a lonely, single woman on the hunt for love, living in her London apartment with daughter Emmy (Hayley Atwell) and granddaughter. The divorcee decides to attend contrived singles’ nights with the blind faith that she may meet the man of her dreams. However, she finds herself back at the apartment of George Stone (Ralph Brown), who is brutally murdered later on that evening.
As Anna flees the crime scene – having woken from being unconscious and unable to remember who had killed George, or how it had occurred – she meets detective Bernie Reid (Gabriel Byrne), who is called in to handle this mysterious case, and an affinity is formed between the two. Although their mutual need for affection brings the pair closely together, this challenging relationship comes across a number of hurdles as Bernie digs deeper into the case, compromising his professional reputation in the process, under the watchful eye of D.I. Kevin Franks (Eddie Marsan).
It is rare to see a film noir production prosper in contemporary cinema, as a genre almost confined to the classic Hollywood pre-1960. Yet Southcombe has evidently taken many pointers from French New Wave filmmakers such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Melville, to do the treasured genre justice. To epitomise such success, Southcombe manages to keep you engaged from start to finish, structures the narrative well and keeps you guessing throughout. The flashbacks to the fatal night in which this film is mostly set, are intelligently employed as we see them as Anna recounts them; in short, shady bursts, as we pensively build towards the finale, piecing it all together as we go along.
Despite being a fairly conventional murder mystery, there is something rather minimalist about I, Anna, with a slow-burning pace while sparse in dialogue, avoiding any sense of melodrama in the process; certainly helped along by the melodic and calming soundtrack provided by singer-songwriter Richard Hawley. Meanwhile – and in line with the film noir genre – Southcombe implements an almost voyeuristic approach in his camerawork, as the consistent panning shots seem to reflect where Bernie’s gaze would be, as though we’re following the story through his wandering eyes at times. There is something quite Hitchcockian about that.
Meanwhile the performances are impressive, particularly from Rampling, representing a desirable yet vulnerable single woman, the latter enhanced by the fact she has a broken arm throughout – a result of the blurry night spent at George’s flat, also making for a series of uncomfortable scenes, as Anna scratches away at her injury: somewhat metaphorical too. The romance between her character and Bernie is endearing, as these two celebrated British performers more than prove their worth.
In what is no doubt an auspicious debut for Southcombe, here is a director that has taken many pointers from the cinematic legends that have come before him and used such references to great success, creating a provocative and artful thriller that is bound to intrigue and compel you. I, Anna. I, impressed.