During my years on the cultural prowl in Paris it was not unusual to spot British-born Charlotte Rampling and her two sons attending the theatre, most notably the more adventurous pieces created by Robert Lepage and Philippe Genty. It was perhaps inevitable that her children would enter the arts realm themselves. While David Jarre, her younger son with her husband of 20 years, Jean Michel Jarre, is a magician, her eldest, Barnaby Southcombe, the product of her four-year marriage with her one-time agent, New Zealander Bryan Southcombe, has now for the first time, directed his mum in I, Anna, a drama with noir elements based Elsa Lewin's 1984 American novel.
There was just nothing that I would have ever thought of making with my
mum until I was slipped this novel and it really became something that
only she could do.
“It was inevitable I guess,” concedes the 40 year-old, who has worked extensively in television and here directs his first feature. “But it was also because of the material. There was just nothing that I would have ever thought of making with my mum until I was slipped this novel and it really became something that only she could do.”
Initially though, Rampling had turned her son down, even if today Southcombe doesn't mention it.
“He conveniently forgot that and carried on which is great because it means he has a spirit of determination which you very much need if you are going be a director,” Rampling explains with a chuckle. “It was only a treatment anyway and I wasn't sure I liked the actual story. But he developed the story so differently from the book and from the treatment that when he finally finished it, it was a complete piece of work.”
Rampling's Anna is living in London with her daughter Emmy (Hayley Atwell) and small granddaughter. Struggling after her recent divorce, she attends a speed dating night and seems to hit it off with the far rougher George, who is later found dead. A bedraggled recently divorced police inspector Bernie Reid (Gabriel Byrne) is soon on the case but loses his objectivity as he is intensely attracted to Anna. Indeed at 66, Rampling plays what has been termed an aging femme fatale to perfection--even if her son does not hold back on showing her wrinkles.
“Working together was actually a lot more straight forward than I'd thought,” admits Southcombe. “There was a very natural power shift, a natural dynamic. That's largely down to her and the way she works with directors. For her the big angst and the big uncertainty about projects is actually committing to them. It's that big step into the unknown every time and I think that's the hardest thing because an as actress she hands over responsibility very wholeheartedly. She's an incredibly collaborative person and actor. There is no ego and I think what makes her more interesting as an actress is that she is still quite fearless. For somebody of her age to really just keep taking the leap is what makes her interesting and certainly what also makes her very easy to work with.”
Anna doesn't have a maternal instinct and that suited Rampling fine. “The unconventionality of the characters is what makes them interesting,” she says. “They don't follow normal codes and they're not as you say, politically correct. We are all going to be shot now if we smoke; we are not allowed to do things in a way that we were, say in the 70s, when films were much freer in that sense. I think Barnaby has allowed himself to have influences from that time. Being born in the 70s and then brought up a bit on that type of cinema, he's trying to avoid that trap.”
Southcombe was in a basinet on the set of The Night Porter, though her has no memories of it. For the most part he grew up on the outskirts of Paris and went to school in London. When he attended the multidisciplinary University College London (UCL) he was classmates with Christopher Nolan. “We made our first short films together," he recalls, "we were still editing on film so it was a while ago. It's a great university and the theatre society and the drama society were very active.”
Afterwards he completed a four-month film course in New York before venturing to New Zealand for a year and a half, partly to spend time with his late father. “I worked as a runner for Communicado [television production company] and then started directing factual television for them. My career very much started in New Zealand.”
After moving to London over a decade ago he achieved success for his extensive British television work, including Footballers Wives: Extra Time and more recently Holby Blue and Harley Street, all the time watching from across the Channel as his mother continued to resurrect her career in France, after her incredible performances in Francois Ozon's Under the Sand and Swimming Pool.
“Part of the resonance of the I, Anna project for me is to bring her back to England,” he admits. “She is so embraced and is such an icon in France and I really wanted to do an English film with her. Although a lot of the stylistic influences of I, Anna are French, I wanted to do something that was very English. The book was actually set in New York and I wanted to bring it to the UK.
“England is very much my spiritual home now although I didn't grow up there at all. I felt very French growing up and I felt very uncomfortable in the UK. I used to feel like a fish out of water and people thought that I was a little French kid when I came to the UK. There was a slightly displaced feeling for a long time.”
I, Anna is available on DVD through Transmission Home Entertainment from May 1.