Benjamin Kersey’s review published on Letterboxd:
In the credits, Leos Carax thanks Stephen Sondheim. Whether that’s just for inspiration or because Sondheim had a say in ANY of this, I MUST. KNOW. MORE. (I’m guessing it’s the former, considering he also thanks Bela Bartok, King Vidor and Edgar Allan Poe in the same bunch, but what was the influence?! Clearly, the answer is ROAD SHOW.)
As I write this review, I’m outside, sitting under the stars. Well, not quite the stars, as the sky is quite cloudy and I can barely make out more than a couple of stars, but that’s not important. The reason I’m bringing this up is because there were moments where I literally forgot that I was outside while I was watching the film— and then a mosquito came to bite me, or I got a chill, or I got a whiff of the bonfire in front of me, or my Adirondack chair suddenly got uncomfortable— what I’m trying to say here is that a film as transfixing as Carax’s ANNETTE is a rarity. Equal parts Sirk, Lynch, Russell, Puccini, obviously Sparks, and Carax, the operatic spectacle that is this masterpiece is something that American cinema hasn’t seen in ages.
I keep using the word “operatic” to describe the film, because it’s the perfect word to use. Not only is the film a rock opera (it was originally supposed to be a concept album!) but the structure it follows is intensely operatic. Just look at the nightmare premonition that Ann gets in the limousine: a concept that is more than familiar to opera. The way it treats dialogue and its relation to music is distinctly operatic, and I’d kill to see ANNETTE on stage, but who would be brave enough to produce such a thing? Obviously, Carax could stage the hell out of it, based on the way he stages Ann’s aria, but who would put the money towards such a thing? It’s already astounding enough that the film was able to be made, but to put it in a form that already very few trust financially would be financial and career suicide. And who could sing Annette’s part in the final heart wrenching duet? Devyn McDowell gives one of the best performances of the year and I cannot see how anyone else could even compare.
The film is long, but it never feels like the incredible, interminable scene that perfectly demonstrates what it’s like to see a comedian bomb like never before. But what is length? Why do we complain about a film’s duration? I’ve done it before, but I would’ve sat through another hour of ANNETTE. When you get the once-in-a-lifetime combination of Carax’s brilliant style, Driver, Cotillard and Helberg’s devastating performances and Sparks’s incredible score, length is not a bad thing. I’ll wait a while until my next watch— seeing this for the first time again is something I’d make a Faustian bargain for.
The storm, the abyss. So, may we start?