L'Annulaire is the second feature film from director Diane Bertrand, who also wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of Yoko Ogawa's novel.
The film follows Iris (Olga Kurylenko), who moves to a port town after cutting off the tip of her ring finger in an industrial accident. She quickly finds lodging in a hotel down by the harbour, but is forced to share a room with a sailor who works at night and sleeps while she is out in the day. While searching for work, by chance she comes across an old girls' school that now houses a man (Marc Barbe) who preserves and stores personal artifacts that people bring to him.
Taking a job as the man's office assistant, she soon becomes involved in a sort of relationship with him, while at the same time being intrigued by the sailor (Stipe Erceg), whom she only knows through the things left in their shared room.
The movie, filmed in Hamburg and just outside Paris, is beautifully shot. Bertrand favours many tight shots of the characters, giving a more intimate feel to many of the moments in the film. Noah Cowan, the co-director of the festival, described the film as combining the contemplative feel of Asian cinema with the sexual energy of European cinema. Thus, the film is very spare in its dialogue, leaving only the words that are spoken and the looks between characters as the framework on which to interpret the story.
The preservation of personal artifacts in the film causes one to wonder about the nature of memories, loss, and the desire or need to move on, extending even to Iris' own life. This helps to draw the viewer into what is a very quiet and meditative film.
I found the actress playing Iris was quite good, especially given that it was her first film and that she had to communicate so much non-verbally. A few of the scenes between her and the preservationist were charged with a lot of sensual energy, even in something as simple as him putting a pair of shoes on her feet.
Notes from the Q&A with director Diane Bertrand:
- L'Annulaire is very open-ended, and Bertrand herself admitted the film doesn't give any answers; the audience can imagine what it wants.
- She tried to be faithful to the novel, but it is very short. Bertrand added the sub-plot with the sailor.
- When asked why she adapted this novel, Bertrand said when she first read the book, she couldn't stop, and had all these images in her head, which was unusual since the atmosphere in the book is not European. But even upon re-reading the novel she still had the same feelings. She felt aspirations to explore the desire, love, and mysteries of the story.
- Olga Kurylenko is from the Ukraine, and this was her first film, thus making it difficult to obtain financing. Thus, there was lots of time for her to work on her character; Bertrand asked her to watch lots of films and read a lot of books. Kurylenko felt a bond to the character.
- The director of photography is also a photographer, which accounts for the look of the film.
- Bertrand wanted to film something slow like a painting, to make the audience feel as though they are watching moving images.
Minor spoilers below:
- Bertrand had less direction for Marc Barbe, but she did ask him to not play his scenes with Kurylenko like he wanted to seduce her, even though the character seems to know exactly what she needs. Iris is supposed to feel that he sees inside her as soon as they meet. Barbe agreed that the character does not need to explain himself.
- In the novel, the shoes which play an important role in the story are black, not red, however Bertrand has a bit of an obsession with the colour red.
- Bertrand feels the story really starts with the scene where the preservationist puts the shoes on Iris’ feet. It is Ogawa’s theme that Iris has a feeling of being possessed by the shoes. But when Barbe’s character tells Iris that she can’t take the shoes off, she gives him a quick look that says “ok, so you want to play this game” and decides to do it, preferring to live something rather than nothing.