Whether or not it's clinically accurate - and it certainly has a plausible ring - stalker study Anna M tightens the psychological screws to compelling effect. Michel Spinosa's drama about a young woman in the throes of a morbid passion may be a touch manipulative, but has an iron grip that doesn't let go any more easily than its heroine does.
A striking shift of register for Spinosa after retro comedy La Parenthese Enchantee, Anna M provides a dazzling showcase for Isabelle Carre, an actress whose time has definitely come. The film should make a more than respectable showing locally.
All also bodes well for export, especially following the success of similarly themed and paced studies of female obsession, notably Denis Dercourt's The Page Turner and Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher.
The film - screened in the Berlin Panorama - sets a fastidious, Chabrol-esque tone in the first few shots, showing Anna (Carre) at work as a rare-book restorer in Paris's old Bibliotheque Nationale. Anna seems a well-balanced professional sort, but all is not well. Following an unexplained collapse, she leaves the flat where she lives with her mother (Mnich), and deliberately walks into traffic.
Recovering from her injuries, she is tended by Dr Andre Zanevsky (Melki), for whom she immediately conceives an unrequited passion. At first, her crush seems to be the sort of skittish folly that has provided the material for many a French comedy of misunderstanding, but the depth of Anna's disturbance emerges as she starts pursuing Zanevsky and casting dark looks at his wife (Consigny).
Even after a spell in a psychiatric clinic, where she appears to readjust to normality, Anna can only think of Zanevsky - whose existence, by this time, she's made into a living hell.
Divided into chapters, entitled after the phases of pathological erotomania, the film keeps us guessing about what's going on in the mind of this intelligent, sensitive but disturbed young woman.
Spinosa artfully keeps the film fluctuating between Zanevksy's view of Anna as a Basic Instinct-style menace, and a sympathetic closeness to this vulnerable woman who's a prisoner of her own psyche.
At times, the film veers away from psychological analysis towards a thriller-style suspense - notably in a virtuoso, hugely uncomfortable sequence in which Anna enlists two unwitting little girls as her assistants.
Whatever its narrative unevenness, Anna M is unfailingly gripping and directed with well-paced, steely concentration. It also represents a tour de force for Isabelle Carre, currently on a career roll, notably in Alain Resnais's Coeurs, Christian Vincent's Quatre Etoiles and Anne Fontaine's Entre Ses Mains. Spinosa's film gives her a showcase that should promote her internationally as a major name.
The subtlety of her characterisation - blending delicacy and violence, implacable strength and child-like confusion - makes for a portrayal that reminds you of the early Isabelle Huppert, and not just because of the freckles and the deceptively demure manner.
Gilbert Melki also scores strongly as the long-suffering love object, and Alain Duplantier's 'Scope photography - making striking use of Paris locations - adds to the confident intensity.
Agat Films & Cie