J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I, Anna: Charlotte Rampling Rocks a Trench Coat

Architecturally, there are two Londons of note. There is the Old England of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace and the glass and steel London of Norman Foster and the Barbican. The latter is becoming increasingly more recognizable, thanks to structures like “The Gherkin.” This is the world Anna Miller and DCI Bernie Reid uncomfortably inhabit in Barnaby Southcombe’s moody noir, I, Anna (trailer here), which releases today on DVD, from Icarus Films.

Anna Welles is a divorced grandmother with misgivings—about the fractured union, not her granddaughter or her single-mother grown-daughter Emmy. In fact, all three live together, with Welles sleeping in the living room New York studio style, while the two younger generations share her one bedroom. Encouraged by Emmy to do a spot of speed-dating, Welles winds up accompanying a mature player named George Stone to his tony flat. Things get a bit haywire from there, especially for Stone, whose noggin is bashed in by a blunt object.

To viewers, Welles looks like an excellent suspect, who even returns to the building to retrieve her umbrella from the lift. However, that is not how DCI Reid initially sees her, but he definitely notices the stylish woman. Stone’s resentful stepson with extensive drug debts seems like a far more likely perp. Of course, the investigation will inevitably turn toward Welles just as she and Reid make an unusually deep emotional connection.

Southcombe adapted Elsa Lewin’s one-hit wonder mystery novel, which was also inspired the late 1990s German film, Solo for Clarinet. Presumably, the clarinet was a bit of German seasoning. In its present screen incarnation, the narrative sort of resembles Looking for Mr. Goodbar, as if James M. Cain had rewritten it. Yet, first and foremost, Southcombe clearly conceived the film as a star vehicle-character study for Charlotte Rampling, who also happens to be his mother.

It should also be immediately conceded Rampling and her co-lead Gabriel Byrne do not look anywhere near the seventy and sixty-six years their Wikipedia pages admit to. Still, they are indeed mature adults, which makes their romantic relationship rather refreshing, even though it is obviously doomed. Together, their chemistry smolders, while individually Rampling implodes spectacularly and Byrne absolutely personifies rumpled angst. Bond and Avengers fans will also enjoy seeing Honor Blackman kill it with a tart-tongued extended cameo. Similarly, Eddie Marsan gives the film additional mystery cred playing DI Frank Towers (frankly, it is about time somebody programmed a Marsan retrospective).

In all likelihood, Southcombe probably did not intend I,A as a commentary on contemporary architecture, but it is baked in nonetheless—and more successfully than in Wheatley’s artlessly didactic High-Rise. They both orbit ultra-modern neighborhoods like Canary Wharf, but they are uneasy in their navigation. Reid seems to be a respected guv’nor (or at least he was), but he prefers to patrol the streets at 5:00 rather than spend time in his fishbowl office with floor-to-ceiling internal windows. Likewise, Rampling’s ageless sophistication looks out of place traversing the endless external concrete stairways of Stone’s complex.

As a mystery, I, Anna is not all that mysterious, but Ben Smithard’s cinematography is seductively noir. Essentially, Southcombe’s film is all about style and Rampling, with some Byrne thrown in for good measure. For most genre fans, that will be more than enough. Recommended for mature mystery/thriller patrons, I, Anna is now available on DVD from Icarus Films.

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