Annette ★★★½


Duet. Marionette. Annette.

My second Carax, in his bestialized redrawing of the work of Demy, Powell, and Pressburger, with the music and story the brainchild of the long-tenured pop-rock duo in Sparks, brothers Ron and Russell Mael. A quirky music group matched with a quirky filmmaker, a heavenly marriage for something entirely esoteric, bizarre, and oftentimes starkly beautiful—all for better or worse.

Adam Driver plays Henry, a performative, provocative stand-up comedian who announces in his latest gig his engagement to Ann (Marion Cottilard), a soprano opera singer. Their courtship occurs in the blink of an eye, in the limelight, and in the strobing lights of the paparazzi, and so they marry; the event occurring in one of the film's many tabloid-esque diversions. Their lives are already infected by the give-and-take of fame, and so they decide to bring a third into their lives to share in it: the titular Annette, their marionette daughter.

Eventually, sociopathy and tragedy strike with Shakespearean purpose—a peculiar blend of Prospero's raging sea storms and Lear's insanity brought forth in the sight of the tempest that swirls about him (all perhaps something deliberate by Sparks as they do so love Shakespeare)—and Annette soon takes up the mantle as the family breadwinner, an "infant-toddler singer" ostensibly possessed by the spirit of her mother. As much Shakespeare as it is Greek tragedy; after all, these players have their own Greek Chorus to accompany them much of the time, and perhaps does it carry an implied reverse-Electra complex. Cottilard eventually dons a costume not so dissimilar from that of the sirens that tempted Odysseus, or could she be a variation of Circe or Hecate? Myth runs deep in this modern symphony.

Such theatrical roots then fitted on a rather familiar scaffold, where lovers love and quarrel, affairs surface, then murder and murder à la the death of Gatsby or Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis in their large pools. Carax, though some minor genius among the likes of Charlie Kaufman, does fumble: in the end, it's a rather simple plotline, with some obvious, sometimes plainly unimaginative lyrics, and as much as a sequence wows and leaves me in awe, so often does the next leave me in distress, lamenting the pathos or tone that was so suddenly undone... then repeat and repeat.

Largely, however, this is nearing some amount of majesty: Sparks' tunes are weighty and lasting, reaching for the likes of Sondheim or Webber; Driver and Cottilard are brilliant, with Driver delivering a lot of monologues largely captured in long takes; and the union of theater and film can be spellbinding, with the seastorm sequence being a stunner with its conspicuous sets, screen projections, and machinery. A mercurial work in every sense of the word. Erratic. Deeply fantasy. Not one of the great works, but a lot of what makes up this film are great works in themselves.

Added to:
The Films of France/Belgium [Ranked]
2021 [Ranked]
Postmodernism: A Jaunt into the Amorphous

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