EmptyPARIS -- The title of this modestly pitched but engrossing psychological thriller is a reference to the famous "Case of Anna O," a key event in Freud's development of the theory of hysteria. To be sure, writer-director Michel Spinosa's protagonist clearly is a troubled young woman.
Although punctuated with chapter headings as in a textbook, such as "Hope," "Frustration" and "Hatred," and clearly based on clinical research, the movie is atmospheric, disturbing and blessed with an outstanding performance by Isabelle Carre in the title role.
The latter-day Anna, 30, lives with her mother (Genevieve Mnich) and works as a restorer of ancient books in France's National Library. She is plain and reserved and does not appear to have much of a social life. That all is not well with her becomes evident when she faints on her way out of the library and a little later deliberately steps into traffic.
Hospitalized with a broken arm, she fixates on the tall, handsome doctor, Zanevsky (Gilbert Melki), who is treating her. Soon she is stalking him, phoning his home and demanding that he meet her for a drink.
Anna is suffering from erotomania, a condition defined as a profound conviction that one is loved by someone who in fact is totally indifferent. She deploys immense energy and resourcefulness in pursuit of her fantasy, brazenly visiting Zanevsky's wife (Anne Consigny) in the art gallery where she works, stealing his mail and ramming his car with a van that she has stolen from Albert (Francis Renaud), the railway security guard she had earlier picked up and seduced in a fit of pique.
Things take a sinister turn when Anna, seeking further opportunities for harassment, gets herself taken on as a baby sitter for the occupant (Eric Savin) of the flat above Zanevsky's. She brutalizes her two young charges, then succeeds in gaining entry to Zanevsky's flat where -- the doctor and his wife being absent, preparing to move out -- she defiles the marital bed.
The movie owes more to Roman Polanski's "Repulsion" than to Adrian Lyne's "Fatal Attraction," and Anna finds salvation of a kind through the intervention of Eleonore (Gaelle Bona), her colleague and friend from the library, who settles her in a mountain retreat where she is able to bring up the child she conceived with Albert.
Shooting largely at night and in interiors, Spinosa lends his film a claustrophobic, sometimes hallucinatory quality, convincingly creating a world in which fantasies become capable of realization. Religious references suggest a parallel between erotomania and mystic vision -- a sudden illumination, the sense of having been chosen, the seeing of signs. Inessential details are withheld; we never learn Anna's surname, or the names of her mother, Zanevsky's wife or the upstairs neighbor.
The film is dominated by Carre. The actress inhabits her role, credibly mapping out Anna's transition from a drab, humdrum existence into full-blown psychosis. Apart from Zanevsky and Anna's mother, the other characters are largely secondary, but there are excellent cameos from Consigny, Savin and Francois Loriquet as Anna's psychiatrist.
Perfectionists may find a degree of implausibility in the success of Anna's stratagems, not to mention Zanevsky's failure to recognize her condition and the weakness of his efforts to deal with it. The origins of Anna's psychosis and the precise nature of her relationship with her mother remain obscure. Nonetheless, "Anna M." is a serious-minded piece of adult filmmaking about a little-known but surprisingly common phenomenon.
Diaphana Films (France)
Screenwriter-director: Michel Spinosa
Producer: Patrick Sobelman
Director of photography: Alain Duplantier
Production designer: Thierry Francois
Costumes: Nathalie Raoul
Editor: Chantal Hymans
Anna M.: Isabelle Carre
Andre Zanevsky: Gilbert Melki
Mme. Zanevsky: Anne Consigny
Anna's Mother: Genevieve Mnich
Eleonore: Gaelle Bona
Albert: Francis Renaud
Upstairs Neighbor: Eric Savin
Receptionist: Samir Guesmi
Psychiatrist: Francois Loriquet
Running time -- 106 minutes
No MPAA rating