Annette – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by Leos Carax
Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell
In selected cinemas September 3 rd
This film hits cinemas fresh from its success at the Cannes Film Festival where Caracx won Best Director and Sparks (the band comprised of brothers Ron and Russell Mael) won Best Soundtrack for their work on the film. In light of the success of Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers documentary, there is also renewed interest in the group, who have been around for half a century, so this film is eagerly anticipated by fans old and new. Equally, fans of cult director Carax are interested to see what he does in his first English language film.
The story is a simple one. A provocative stand-up comedian Henry McHenry (Driver) and a world-famous soprano Ann Desfranoux (Cotillard) fall in love, much to the delight of the celebrity press and their respective fans. They have a child, Annette, (portrayed by a marionette for most of the film). Ann’s career and talent far eclipse Henry, which he struggles to deal with. In time, he is overcome by jealousy which leads to an inevitable tragedy…
Yes, this is a musical but if you are expecting jazz hands, razzle-dazzle and Fossey-esque choreography you will be disappointed. You can tell that this is a different musical take from the opening track “May We Start”, which is a meta moment featuring Carax, Sparks and the cast seeking permission to begin before the story starts properly. Many of the songs rely on repetition for emotional effect. This is something Sparks have played around with a lot in their music, perhaps most famously My Baby’s Taking Me Home. Neither Driver nor Cotillard are singers (her opera scenes are dubbed) and at times they appear to struggle with the music, in particular Driver. However, they both give decent performances, although the standout here is former Big Bang star Helberg who shines as Ann’s lovelorn accompanist, especially in scenes between himself and Annette.
The film was conceived by Sparks who originally envisaged it as a stage musical, which definitely shows in Carax’s direction. At times this feels like a filmed theatre production rather than a movie. It doesn’t follow a straightforward narrative and is filled with whimsy and experimentation. It has multiple underlying themes and in trying to highlight the various strands, it feels jumbled in parts.
This walks a fine line between fantasy and farce and won’t be to everyone’s taste. There is no denying it is ambitious and extremely Avant-Garde. It does also have a charm about it that keeps you engaged. It is the sort of film that grows on you rather than being an instantaneous love at first sight affair. It will probably require a couple of watches for people to get a handle on the multiple layers and metaphors, but it has all the makings of a future cult classic.