One of the best known and most anticipated films of Film Fest Gent 2021 will probably have been Annette , by Leos Carax. The film already scored high at Cannes with a 5-minute standing ovation. Out of sheer awkwardness, lead actor Adam Driver spontaneously started smoking a cigarette to have something to do. However, the film had already received very different reactions from reviewers, a real love-it-or-hate-it situation. We wanted to make it up to ourselves. That we don’t understand the standing ovation is putting it mildly.
Annette that I feared
If you went to this edition of Film Fest Gent, the intro music has probably been in your head for some time. It will therefore look familiar when you watch Annette , since that is the opening number of the film. In this, a band and actors literally ask if they can start their show. Meanwhile, they just walk down the street and keep singing. If you like musicals, this is a promising start. But that’s about the best song in the whole movie, which is saying a lot. The music is from the cult band Sparks . I only knew them by hearsay and haven’t heard anything else from them, but if the music from Annette is typical of their style, I don’t think it’s for me.
The story itself is quite simple. Henry McHenry (Adam Driver, also at the festival in The Last Duel ) is a well-known comedian with popular hall shows who develops a relationship with opera star Ann (Marion Cotillard). Their relationship is therefore widely covered in the press. The couple also has a baby named Annette. But to support Ann’s operatic career, Henry takes care of Annette, which diminishes his own success. Ultimately, their marriage begins to suffer, causing Henry to make a drastic choice that changes their lives.
Even more strange choices
Here are 2 things special: almost everything in the film is sung and Annette is not played by a child but by a doll. We have already experienced that constant singing in Les Miserables , for example, but it remains something you have to get used to. Especially because these songs are sometimes really weird. For example, the melody of the vocals and the instruments do not match (as in the song The Accompanist ), which gives a strange feeling. Many criticized The Greatest Showman at the time , but at least the songs were really good songs that you could listen to afterwards.
In some other songs a lot of the lyrics are repeated or it’s just really weird to turn a certain subject into a song. For example, at a certain moment Ann dreams a song in which 6 women accuse Henry of abuse. But that turns out to be just a dream, which also has a strange connotation. The images accompanying the songs are also often surprising and almost laughable, such as when Henry and Ann sing during a sex scene about how much they love each other. The music eventually started to irritate me and that can’t be the intention after all. If you’re a fan of the band Sparks, it might be different. But if you’re not normally a fan of musicals, this one won’t change that, on the contrary.
child is born, it is therefore played by a doll. This is done more often with a baby, but then it becomes a real child for important shots. You don’t have that here and the child becomes more and more clearly a doll, complete with seams and all. Since Annette is an important character, I also think this is a very strange choice. Because I’m not in it for dolls anyway, and certainly not to arouse sympathy. It seems like a superfluous gimmick in a movie that actually already has too many.
A silver lining
One bright spot are the actors. My love for Adam Driver is well known in the meantime, so he made sure that I stayed. From Girls and SNL’s Awesome Undercover Boss Sketch, we already knew that he also has a comedic side. He can more than handle the role of comedian who then turns into a pessimistic bastard. We also see him perform shows, which makes me want to see him in a play. Marion Cotillard is also always an asset so she also gives the necessary credibility to her character. They also both sing live, which sometimes works well and sometimes not so much. They can certainly sing, but the songs are also not that simple or mainstream, which means that not everything comes across as well. In the end they have to make do with what they have.
Everything looks good. Ann is an opera singer and so we see a few fragments of those performances. There you can see the large scale and the attention to detail that production had. This film also has a Belgian touch there. For example, a concert scene is set in the Concertgebouw in Bruges, an opera piece was filmed in the Warande Park and an important performance in the opera house in Liège. Perhaps you can also have fun looking for cameos by Ella Leyers, Angèle and Wim Opbrouck. Because, it was probably already clear, the rest of the film was really not my thing.