Debut feature director Barnaby Southcombe is currently shooting this moody, noirish London-set thriller starring Charlotte Rampling and Gabriel Byrne.
Synopsis: The story of a woman’s life being turned upside down after a date gone wrong, and the impossible love of the cop tracking her down.
Writer/Director: Barnaby Southcombe
Producers: Felix Vossen, Christopher Simon, Michael Eckelt, Ilann Girard
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Gabriel Byrne, Eddie Marsan
Backers: Exponential Media, Greenstreet Entertainment, Bavaria Film International, Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein (FFHSH) and the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF)
International sales: Bavaria Films International
Distributors: Artificial Eye (UK), NFP/Warner Bros (Germany), ABC Distribution/Cinemien (Benelux)
Country of production: UK/France/Germany
Filming locations: London/Hamburg
Status: Completing shooting in Hamburg in mid-March prior to 20 weeks of post-production in Hamburg.
Release date: Likely to be ready for the autumn markets and festivals.
On a grey February morning in the granite sprawl of the Barbican complex in London, director Barnaby Southcombe is shooting a pivotal scene in noirish thriller, I, Anna. Chief Inspector Bernie Reid (Gabriel Byrne), leaving the scene of a murder, bumps into an elegant and mysterious woman in a lift. This is Anna (Charlotte Rampling). He is immediately intrigued and attracted by her.
I, Anna may be a debut feature but it has some heavyweight talent behind it. Byrne and Rampling (Southcombe’s mother) are on screen together for the first time. Mike Leigh regular Eddie Marsan is also in the cast and there is a cameo from former Avenger and Bond girl, Honor Blackman.
The film is being made through production and finance outfit Embargo Films, the company set up by Southcombe and German-born producer Felix Vossen. “We met, rather oddly, in the street,” Southcombe recalls of how he first encountered his business partner around eight years ago. At the time, Southcombe was “playing around with a super 8 camera.” Vossen, a fellow camera enthusiast, accosted him.
From that unlikely beginning, they eventually set up in business together. A third partner, producer Christopher Simon (producer of The Proposition), joined the company after meeting Vossen and Southcombe at the Dinard Film Festival last year.
The film, budgeted at just over $4.8m (£3m), is based on a New York-set novel by Elsa Lewin. Embargo secured the rights from German company Ziegler Film (which a decade ago made an adaptation of the book called Solo For Clarinet.)
“We always saw it as a European coproduction,” Felix Vossen declares. At an early stage, French producer Ilann Girard of Arsam came on board. Then, Michael Eckelt of Hamburg-based Riva Film joined the production after meeting Southcombe at the co-production village in Les Arcs in 2009. The project was also presented at the Coproduction Market in Berlin in 2010. It was then that Bavaria Films International signed up to handle world sales.
Distributors were clearly intrigued by the project with Artificial Eye swooping early to take UK rights, ABC/Cinemien taking Benelux rights and NFP/Warner Bros handling Germany. The production secured around €400,000 financing from Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein (FFHSH) as well as support from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) and from UK financier Exponential Media.
One of the prime attractions about the material for Southcombe was that it offered two very strong roles for mature actors. “That was absolutely what struck me in the novel,” the writer-director says. “It is a story about finding love in a difficult and fragile time in your life.”
The two protagonists – the overworked cop and the lonely woman – are both driven by a desire for intimacy and affection. This is a story about “older love.”
The two leads were clearly fascinated by the material - and by the prospect of working with one another. “I suppose for me I, Anna is a film about emotional connection and disconnection - two people who are alienated in the great city where a random event brings them together,” says Gabriel Byrne.
“The characters have many of the characteristics of the noir film, but in this story there is an unconventional slant, which makes the film compelling and different. What makes it interesting to me are the areas of enigma and mystery where we watch the protagonists move through a story line while revealing their deeper and hidden emotional lives. The film has themes of memory, truth, crime, punishment, guilt, love, sex and loneliness all simmering beneath the surface, as in all noir films.”
Charlotte Rampling agrees: “I was first attracted by the intriguing story and script; it stimulated my fascination for film noir, the mysteries that lie within,” she says. “Anna and Bernie are the heroes of this genre, irresistibly drawn to each other’s dark-side. Gabriel is the perfect Bernie!”
Southcombe was keen to relocate the story from New York to London. “I thought that to bring it (the film) to Europe would bring a different feel and flavour. I very much wanted to show London in a different light.” Rather than portray the city as “warm and cosy,” Southcombe was determined to acknowledge the sheer scale and size of the metropolis – and how alienating it can be.
“What I wanted to show with areas like the Barbican was the very brutalist, modernist hard architecture,” the director (whose TV drama credits include episodes of Holby Blue and Waterloo Road) states.
Southcombe wrote his screenplay with his mother Rampling and Byrne in mind. “There’s a quality that they both have. They carry within them such history on their faces,” he muses. “I wasn’t going to make the film without them. Other elements could change but they were the two elements that I would refuse to go forward without.”
Shooting began early this year in central London. Alongside the Barbican, one key location was the Peter Jones department store, where Anna (Rampling) works in the bed department. (“We were very lucky, They (Peter Jones) gave us the whole store,” Southcombe notes.) Another was a giant ballroom in the Metropole Hotel where singles meet for speed-dating events.
Next up: Embargo Films currently has several projects in development, among them coming of age story Closed Stranger, road movie Trivial Pursuits and satire Contractors.