This is a curious film – more of an extended allegory than any kind of straightforward narrative. It's an adaptation of a short story by Yoko Ogawa, who specializes in eerie tales of weird people and their strange, sometimes dangerous, desires. Olga Kurylenko abandons the prospect of a normal life with a regular working class hunk, and chooses instead to become a living 'specimen'. Her employer is an older man who runs a business purging customers of painful memories. They pay a fee to have certain objects of talismanic power taken away and stored, alongside what appear to be ghosts of the man's own past.
Kurylenko's own painful memory is of the tip of her ring finger being sliced off in an accident at a bottling factory – perhaps a symbol for the way entry into the workforce mangles the traditional role of women as wives and mothers. If that's the case, she nonetheless settles for becoming an object in the house of a controlling patriarch. Her employer seduces her, and gives her a pair of red shoes that become a symbol of her subjection to him. At the end of the film, she takes them off in contravention of his wishes, but chooses to give her ring finger to him as a 'specimen'. She slips off one ring, but surrenders a much more intimate part of herself, and joins his nunnery-cum-harem.
The film is made cheaply, and it shows, but Bertrand injects a certain style into it, using frames within frames and adding surreal flourishes like Kurylenko's dream of swinging on a enormous crane. A particularly nice set-piece is the dropping of the Majong set – an entire philosophy shattered then put back together again. The mood is helped enormously by a very effective score from Beth Gibbons (of Portishead fame), which is by turns sweet and sinister. Staying true to Ogawa's fiction, the film leaves motivations opaque and the ending unexplained. But piecing together its confluence of symbols is a diverting way to spend 100 minutes.