Annette (2021): What You Need to Know about Carax’ Doomed Romance (Amour Fou) Weird Musical, Starring Adam Driver

Directed by the French filmmaker Leos Carax, Annette tells the story of a doomed marriage, with songs written by brothers Ron and Russell Mael, the art-pop-rock duo known as Sparks.

This is Carax’s sixth feature in 37 years, while Sparks have produced 25 albums over five decades.

 

 

A man wearing a motorcycle helmet and a woman with short hear are about to kiss.
Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in “Annette,” set for release in August 2021 in theaters and Amazon Prime (Amazon Prime Video)

These wild emotional extremes are expressed in song, a style that “Annette” embraces with imagination and playful conviction.

The artists also share in common emotional stealth, dazzling style, affinity for the French New Wave.

Carax is a cult director, adored and championed by cinephiles.

Here he again displays brand of doomy romanticism (“Mauvais Sang,” “The Lovers on the Bridge”)

“Annette” takes its name from Ann and Henry’s not-yet-born daughter, an artistic love child like no other.

Sparks fans can be fiercely loyal and fickle, as shown in Edgar Wright’s documentary, The Sparks Brothers, and they may again be divided in their response to Carax picture.

The movie is set in their home city of Los Angeles, even if it was shot in Belgium and Germany.

Annette is a self-reflexive, metanarrative of a classical backstage melodrama, which, among other things, nods, borrows, and make references to the various versions of the perennial Hollywood saga, A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976, 2017).
Annette might also be distant relation of the horror film, Annabelle, or perhaps Kaufman’s animation, Anomalisa?

It could also resonate as a corrosive remake of the 2016 sunnier showbiz romance, La La Land, complete with #MeToo-era about toxic Hollywood masculinity?

Exhilarating Opening:

Annette begins with let’s-put-on-a-show energy.
The Maels appear, tuning up their equipment and launching into delirious number, “So May We Start?”  Carax and his actors then join in, marching toward the camera in a take that begins indoors and ends on Santa Monica Boulevard. “So may we start?” they sing. “May we start, may we, may we now start?”
A woman in a maroon dress in the backseat of a car
Marion Cotillard in “Annette.” (Amazon Studios)

The overture suggests collaborative spirit that promises to lift our mood, only to negate minutes later all of those expectations

Running time:

The melancholy movie takes its time; it runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, overextending its welcome by at least 30 minutes.

Imagery:

Loony flights of lyricism and gorgeous images, shot by Caroline Champetier.

The splendid production design is by Florian Sanson.

Tonality:

Mix of sincerity and irony, comedy and tragedy. The movie’s increasingly darker melodies, turning a love story into a tale of alienation, loss and regret.

Plot:

The city’s bright neon shimmer recedes and the action shifts to the menacing feel of the couple’s home, where even the swimming pool glows with foreboding.

Ann and Henry’s idyllic early days as a couple are overshadowed by death. Ann is starring in a new opera at Disney Hall, playing her character’s demise with passion.

Henry, by contrast, frustrates his crowd’s desire for easy laughs, musing about what we really mean when we say a comedian “kills.” If his conclusions are unnerving, it is because he is not joking.

A sympathetic orchestra conductor (Simon Helberg) steps in, singing of his devotion to Ann and his suspicions about Henry.

Nuggets of exposition are dispensed in Hollywood-satirizing news clips, breaking up the music and hastening Ann and Henry’s journey through marriage and parenthood.

They name their infant daughter Annette, an association triggered by Carax and Sparks’ love of wordplay; Annette takes the form of a soulful puppet.

A man with shoulder-length hair in dark lighting
Adam Driver in the movie “Annette.” (Kris Dewitte/ Amazon Studios)

The movie is horror fantasy, a meditation on creative anxiety, an homage to cinema’s past–there are glimpses of old L.A. theaters and cheesy rear-projection effects?

A darker riff on “Marriage Story,” as the relationship declines and a child’s fate hangs in the balance

Cotillard is luminous, but this isn’t her movie. Nor, despite the title, does it belong to the sweetly precocious Annette, her wooden form perfectly reflecting how her father sees her.

Th movie belongs to Driver, who’s also credited as a producer, and who is imposing in his physicality, with capacity for rage and deceit.

He’s the rare actor capable of Sparks’ knack for unsettling, sometimes inscrutable comedy as well as Carax’s career-long devotion to tragic romantics.

When he dons Henry’s hooded robe or motorcycle helmet you could almost swear he’s channeling that intergalactic villain, this time engaged in star wars of a different kind.

All of which reinforces the sense that Annette might be unfolding in an elaborate hall of cinematic mirrors

Carax as Auteur

As he demonstrated in his previous films, Carax is cinema’s poet of l’amour fou, the peculiar, seductive, long-enduring French genre.

In this movie he shows the bitter reality of what happens when that love is lost.

Holy Motors, like this film, contains monkeys, limousines, and the color green. But where that masterwork had boundless  imagination that seemed to widen, the emotional and aesthetic elements of “Annette” constrict as the tale progresses and loses its initial energy drive.