If you know one thing about Annette, maybe Adam Driver sings a soft and beautiful love song (‘We Love Each Other So Much’) for Marion Cotillard’s foo-foo. Annette is like no other film in 2021 or any other year. Driven by the insane rhythms of Ron and Russell Mael, aka Sparks, and illuminated by Driver’s unwavering energy, he sets sail with his special blend of talents to blast the oft-told showbiz tales undone by professional jealousy, played with wit, great emotion and passion. cinematic brio whip.
From Denis Lavant sprinting and rolling down the streets of Paris to David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ in Mauvais Sang—a moment that Greta Gerwig highly respects in Frances Ha—to Kylie Minogue’s pixie-cut torch song ‘Who We Were’ in Holy Motors, Carax movies have the song in their DNA. Annette saw the filmmaker finally scratch the itch of music that had been around for so long. It started with an absolute blast. Building on Holy Motors’ barnstorming procession according to the performer, ‘So May We Start’, Mael’s usually encouraging composition, sees Carax on screen gathering Sparks and his cast to march with the virtuoso out of the studio and into Santa Monica, singing a delirious song, self The -reflexive ear-worm (“Big budget, but still not enough”) is so good that you fear the film will never recover. That does not.
The driver is Henry McHenry, a stand-up comedian performing artist who roams the stage in a boxer robe. He was a raging braggart, a provocateur (special thanks Bill Burr and Chris Rock drivers in the end credits), cracking jokes about gas chambers and setting himself on fire, initially with the audience eating from the palm of his hand. Before long, late-night head giving and motorcyclists turned into professional jealousy, drunken rage, violent outbursts, and accusations of #MeToo, all of which the TMZ-style news report featured playing as a Greek chorus.
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Considering he has backstage musical contours—one star shines, another dims—the wise things start to feel more conventional than crazed Holy Motors (which happens to feature Sparks’ song ‘How Are You Getting Home?’). This is where Carax plays the joker. Ann gives birth to Annette, a literal Chucky-esque doll who is blessed with an angelic singing voice. After the wood star was born, both Annette and Annette slid into another zone of madness (yes, it was a moody gorilla).
Despite the key to the ill-fated romance of early works like Boy Meets Girl and Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf—some filmmakers have embraced the pain of a lost love as a theme as great as Carax—Annette is truly a film about how true love can be fought by rampant (male) egoism. The effects of Henry’s self-absorption, both as fuel for his art and weakness in his relationships, are profound. It’s easy to see Henry as a portrait of the artist, and for all the craziness it displays, there’s a power of feeling in Annette that suggests the filmmakers duel her demons.
This passion means Carax is cinematic on fire, creating a style that is both lyrical and insane. Working with regular cinematographer Caroline Champetier, Carax creates a sealed world in impressive set-piece after impressive set-piece, exploring from an open theater stage to an enchanted forest to a boat caught in a raging storm and projected backwards, for a a stadium that seats tens of thousands of people for Baby Annette’s first appearance. Carax also seems to ditch the virtuoso image at will: the moment where accompanist Ann (Simon Helberg) spouts expository dialogue while leading the orchestra as the close-up camera makes an incredible circle around her beyond Scorsese’s Scorsese. There was sloppiness in the edit as well. During Henry and Ann’s second cunnilingus session, Carax uses a bold matchstick cut that separates from moans of oral sex to moans of full labor, all as a chorus of doctors and nurses chime in, “Breathe! Exhale! Breathe in!”
It’s this sense of playfulness, plus a passion for pounding highbrow (opera stars) and trash (comics), that makes Carax and Sparks such useful roommates. Save Henry’s comic style, no words are spoken in the film, and scores are sung (think Les Misérables), evolving with simple rhyme and heavy use of repetition, often revolving through variations on the same phrase (‘Six People Have Come Forward’, a staccato hymn to address male toxic behavior) which became anthemic. It helps that both film stars have musical pieces, shown by Driver in Llewyn Davis’ Inside and rendition of ‘Being Alive’ in Marriage Story, Cotillard in the musical Nine and his own recording career. Lyrically, the songs drift between deeply sincere, tongue-in-cheek, and dark cynicism. Musically, the score ranges from dark classicism to beautiful arias, from minimalism to aggressive rock opera. And when it’s time for the film to deliver its massive emotional payload, the brothers ditch the irony to deliver something truly heart-wrenching.
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If the film has any faults, it lies in Carax’s complete disinterest in Ann, giving the enormous Cotillard very little to do outside of her operatic scenes, a scenario that lends little insight into her inner life. In the second act, the wonderful Helberg comes out more prominently as Ann’s lover who wants to be a lover with suspicions about Henry but, performance-wise, the film belongs to Driver. Arguably the most distinctive actor working today, he gave Henry McHenry both disarming power and devastating intensity, it was like watching Frank TJ Mackey from Magnolia if he could sing a song. Carax’s perfect cursed lover, seeing her staring into the abyss, you can’t take your eyes off her.