Annette (2021)
Annette (2021)

Genre: Romantic Drama and Musical Running Time: 2 hrs. 19 min.

Release Date: August 6th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Leos Carax Actors: Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver, Simon Helberg, Ron Mael, Russell Mael

 


 

“B

reathing will not be tolerated during the show.” From quirky narration to flickering lights to juxtaposed images to blurred colors to rapid cuts that match swelling music, “Annette” introduces itself as a wholly unique experience. The opening shot features Sparks bandmates Ron and Russell Mael themselves (accompanied by director Leos Carax’s daughter, Nastya, to whom the film is dedicated) as they prepare in a recording studio, eventually jigging on down to the street where they’re joined by the stars of the upcoming story proper, strolling and singing an entreaty to actually begin the movie – eventually segueing into a title animation. There are even costume changes mid-stroll.

The crooning continues, not only by characters in the scene but also by background voices and a supporting chorus as Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard) belts soprano opera onstage, supplemented by her piano accompanist (Simon Helberg), and Henry “The Ape of God” McHenry (Adam Driver) performs stand-up comedy to roaring fans. The plot is essentially about two people in love (dubbed “Beauty and the Bastard” by the paparazzi), who go through a whirlwind romance (visualized through a traipse across a sunny field and a late-night motorcycle cruise), a speedy wedding, and the birth of a curious child – Annette – before their love winds up in a particularly rough patch. But the entire ordeal is clearly an example of extreme experimental filmmaking.

The fourth wall is routinely broken at the start, before Annette’s arrival tones things down to a macabre twist on “A Star is Born,” in which one partner’s escalating unsuccessfulness (fueled by carousing) soon weighs on the other’s booming popularity. Annette herself is actually a wooden doll-like puppet, appearing cute on rare occasions but primarily looking like a cross between Chucky, Annabelle, Little Otik, and Pinocchio, stumbling about robotically with visible, hinged points of articulation. The decision to use a freckled marionette in place of a real child is only apparent toward the end, which means that the majority of the picture presents a baffling viewpoint, transforming a somewhat grounded bit of musical artistry into macabre fantasy, jumping in and out of a traditional narrative.

From uncanny location transitions to Annette’s interactions to a drawn-out comedy-sketch-cum-dramatic-breakdown (Driver thanks Chris Rock and Bill Burr in the closing credits, but his stand-up routines are “acts of provocation” that more closely resemble an unscripted Lenny Bruce), it’s regularly difficult to tell which parts of the story are to be taken literally and which parts are merely interruptive, artistic dash. After all, this is the kind of musical that boasts songs during sex, childbirth, a bathroom break, and an expletive-laden fit. Despite the singular creativity, the lyrics tend to be highly repetitive and used to reiterate visuals, resulting in few memorable tunes; this complements the increasing weirdness of the merger of dark drama and energetic outlandishness, lending to sustained inquisitiveness yet infrequent satisfaction.

To its credit, “Annette” does feature a potent refrain for the song “We Love Each Other So Much,” as well as a striking duet at the climax called “Sympathy for the Abyss.” That final revelation is surely the best scene in the film, bursting with emotion and tragedy and tear-soaked harmonies. But every poignant sequence is frustratingly dampened by pervasive eeriness or editing eccentricities, as if Carax insists upon preventing audiences from appreciating even a single moment of unadulterated human pathos.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10