I, Anna is Barnaby Southcombe’s feature film debut and there are many ways in which it actually seems like a slightly more stuffed episode of a TV series. Charlotte Rampling, Southcombe’s real life mother, plays Anna Welles, a salesperson at a London Peter Jones store. Anna, a lonely divorcee, lives in a one-bedroom flat with her daughter, Emmy, and her grand-daughter. Rampling plays Anna as someone both continually hesitant and yet sexually complicit, and this latter creates the plot that moves the film into what the publicists call ‘noir-ish’. The other main figure is D.C.I Bernie Reid, played in equally downbeat and hesitant fashion by Gabriel Byrne. After a body is discovered and Anna is seen coming out of the building where it is found, Reid becomes obsessed with her. And eventually, they meet at one of the singles evenings that Anna has taken to attending.
Southcombe has an eye for the bedsit highrise world of London. And he gives the high rise estates around the Barbican a kind of poetry. However, the anomie and loneliness that world breeds dominate the first half of the film in a way which allows no-one to breath. His camera closes in on the faces of the two main protagonists in a way which allows them little leeway. And yet both Rampling and Byrne are superb at showing the suppressed desperation that this world induces.
And the plot of the film seems messy. There is a sub-plot attached to the murder; a sub-plot which never feels satisfactorily developed. And as Anna’s life unravels, Southcombe brings in time-distortions which, in another’s hands, would have been strong and beguiling but here seem muddled.
All of that is a pity because it is a film that the viewer urges to rise above its limitations, just because Rampling and Byrne are often wonderful.