Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg and Devyn McDowell
Directed by Leos Carax
Written by Ron and Russell Mael
A slightly detached and dystopian version of modern day LA takes up the setting of Leos Carax’s latest release, ‘Annette’, and although the film takes on the usual extravagances of a high-budget musical, between the high-functioning characters and their equally high-stakes public appearances, you can’t help but feel that there’s something more sinister going on behind the scenes.
Adam Driver’s electrifying performance as Henry McHenry, a comedian with a tendency for indulging in the darker side of things when it comes to his shows, is another in the multitude of brilliant characters taken on by Driver in recent years. His intense and unmistakable presence on screen is established not only through his quite-literally massive physical appearance, but also in the erratic subtleties that he applies to this role as an equally erratic performer. Marion Cotillard also puts in a great performance as Ann Desfranoux, an opera singer who’s seen in the public eye as a divine and delicate figure – the beauty to Driver’s beast. Together, ‘Annette’ explores the power couple dynamic which forms when the two begin dating, and as the narrative progresses, so does the state of their relationship – for better or for worse.
In terms of pacing, Carax’s modern musical blockbuster hurdles along at a blistering pace, and isn’t afraid to move things forward quickly, with a good number of years being covered during the 140 minutes runtime. Combined with the incredible production design which emphasises the extravagance of this story, ‘Annette’ has an undeniable feeling of grandeur, whilst still managing to maintain an arthouse aesthetic which benefits the more surreal undertakings of the director. Love it or hate it – which I imagine many will – aside from its musical origins, ‘Annette’ feels like an entirely new kind of film, and one which I’m sure will influence future generations, but remain untouchable due to the unique nature of both its story and production.
Written by the infamous ‘Sparks’ brothers, it seemed almost obvious that ‘Annette’ would deliver its story through the use of music. However, I felt that it was actually the songwriting within the film that let the whole thing down. Often extremely repetitive and lacking in subtlety, it seemed a shame that a surrealist narrative delivered from the minds of songwriters who’ve been at it for over forty years couldn’t provide some more exciting or ambiguous lyricism. A multitude of sequences felt as if they dragged on simply because the characters were unable to do more than repeat the same lines of music over and over. Perhaps after multiple viewings, and time to allow the songs to become earworms, their presence may seem more necessary, but upon a first watch, I can’t say I was completely won over.
All in all, it’s undeniable that ‘Annette’ is a bold achievement in both extravagance and absurdity from the French-born director, and whilst there is a lot to love about the film – in particular its performances – it’s difficult to imagine any audience being in one-hundred percent agreement over this one, but that’s no reason not to give it a go and make your own opinion of it.