French director Leos Carax (Holy Motors, 2012) has staged a new film—a comical, magical, rollicking, sprawling rock opera—chosen as the opening night feature at Cannes 2021.
Annette, written by American pop duo Sparks (Ron & Russell Mael), offers sharp twists amidst a comedy of egos in meta mode. “Henry McHenry” (Adam Driver) is an entertainer—two-thirds stand-up comic and one-third performance artist. “Ann Desfranoux” (Marion Cotillard) is a fast-rising star of world-class opera. They meet in a heady whirlwind of paparazzi and favorable reviews. Youthful, successful, and accelerated, they’re soon married. Baby Annette arrives. Now parents, Henry and Ann begin to change in strange ways. The father, in particular, seems to lose his footing. His grasp on morality loosens.
Director Carax is a master of perspective—of camera, yes, but also of dialogue—moving quickly from first person to second to third. The benefit therefrom is a pleasantly jumbled feel that amplifies Henry’s stream-of-consciousness self-absorption particularly well. Perhaps flowing from the fact that Henry and Ann both perform on stage to live audiences, compositions and staging throughout evoke live theater; an off-Broadway musical, one might say. Carax keeps the story moving along quickly, without sacrificing detail, insight, or mood.
Both lead actors perform phenomenally, but Cotillard’s skills are subtler. Driver’s Henry is the tour-de-force of his career. As the arrogant comedian losing his marbles on stage, Driver single-handedly performs an argument between Henry and his wife. It’s a magnificent feat of acting, alternating between the overflowing emotions of the two characters.
Ultimately, the film satisfies in myriad ways, not the least of which are Sparks’ clever lyrics and catchy music. Annette is also a cautionary tale for young lovers who might beget a child only to treat her/him/them as a marionette. The turpentine tears will flow, as Saint Geppetto is my witness.
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