Posted by

Allen Adams Allen Adams
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

edge staff writer


‘Annette’ a surreal and sublime cinematic experience

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been writing about movies for well over a decade at this point, with a fairly well-rounded history of cinematic consumption before that. I have experienced a LOT of films – good, bad and mediocre.

One of the greatest joys that spring from watching movies is the simple fact that, until they start, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Oh, you might have some idea, whether it is from trailers or reviews or word of mouth, but YOUR experience, well – you don’t know until it happens. So I’m no stranger to being surprised by what I see on the screen.

But there’s a very real chance that I have NEVER been as surprised as I was by “Annette.”

The film, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video after a brief limited theatrical run, is one of the most enjoyably jarring movie experiences I’ve had in recent memory. “Annette” is directed by Leos Carax, making his first feature since 2012’s acclaimed “Holy Motors,” with a story by Ron and Russell Mael, the brothers behind indie pop darlings Sparks (the brothers also handle the film’s weird and exceptional music).

As a rule, I make an effort to keep my head clear going into a movie – the less I know, the better. Again – the joy of that leap into the unknown … and boy oh boy, was this the unknown.

Any attempt to classify “Annette” is a fool’s errand. Codifying the cinematic chaos that played out over the course of these 140 or so surreal, absurd minutes is simply beyond my capabilities. It’s an experimental film, a love story, a rock opera. It’s a tale of success and of failure, of intrigue and romance. It is a story of fame and family. It is at times ridiculous, at others sublime. It is vividly shot and viscerally felt, a film that practically dares you to experience it even as it strictly defines the terms under which it will be experienced.

Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) is an ascendant stand-up comedian; his “The Ape of God” show is vulgar, combative and wildly popular. Ann Desfranoux (Marion Cotillard) is a renowned opera singer, a soprano whose talents are unmatched. The two meet and immediately fall in love, their relationship becoming instant fodder for the ever-hungry maw of the entertainment news industry. In just a matter of months, they wed, two seemingly diametric artistic forces uniting.

When they have a baby – a daughter they name Annette – it is clear to them (and to us) that this is no ordinary child.

In the aftermath of Annette’s birth, however, their shared trajectory begins to diverge. Ann’s star continues to rise; in particular, her ability to evoke the power and pathos of death makes her a celebrated global star. Meanwhile, Henry’s career craters – his anger and antagonism no longer resonate with audiences the same way. That divergence leads to an imbalanced dynamic – and that imbalance leads to some tragic consequences.

That’s it – I can’t say any more. “Annette” is awash in narrative shifts and twists, but I won’t be divulging them. It’s not even about spoilers, not really; I’m not sure you even can spoil this movie in any traditional sense. It’s about not wanting to take from you the opportunity of experiencing what I experienced upon watching the film, that feeling of literally not knowing what might happen next. There’s something freeing about seeing a movie play out in a manner that leaves you utterly open to what might happen next, to watch while feeling like anything is possible.

So what CAN we talk about?

Let’s start with the music. First, there’s a LOT of it – this is essentially a fully-sung story, with all that that entails. From the opening tune – the winkingly-titled “So May We Start” – we hit the ground running, establishing leitmotifs and themes that will permeate the entire film. The Maels blend song and story together, letting the narrative unfurl through the context of songs that run the gamut from repetitively simple to unexpectedly complex. Gentle beauty and unsettling atonality – sometimes in the same song – contribute mightily to the viewer’s constant imbalance.

(It’s worth noting that with few exceptions, the cast does their own singing – a degree of verisimilitude that only points up the unnaturalness in which so much of the film is steeped.)

Visually, Carax seemingly does whatever he wants whenever he wants. There are scenes awash in natural beauty and others drenched in deliberate artifice. Everything is stark or saturated. Realism is nowhere to be found, save perhaps in a handful of the interactions between the two leads. Individuals act as multitudes and multitudes act as an individual. Every moment of genuineness is undermined by grotesquery – a juxtaposition embodied (albeit in different ways) by all three members of this surreal family unit.

I’d argue that Adam Driver is one of the best film actors of his generation. He’s shown a remarkable range as a performer, while also making choices that seem designed to push that range. Driver seems to enjoy these challenges and proves more than up to this one, crafting a man bombastic and petty, one capable of great love and great anger. Marion Cotillard’s role is quieter, one that is more reactive than proactive; she mines this deep well of dignified compassion that sits beneath a placid surface. Those energies should clash – and they do – but they also connect, building a relationship that, beneath all of the film’s surreal trappings, feels true. There are other performers in the film, of course – Simon Helberg is very good as he brings his own quietly lunatic energy to the screen as the closest thing there is to a third lead – but at its heart, “Annette” is about this couple and their titular child.

“Annette” is an undeniably challenging film, one that some will view as brilliant, others as bizarre and still others (like myself) as both. It is profound and profane, a surreal journey into a very particular heart of darkness. In the end, you may love it, you may hate it, but you will almost certainly never forget it.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 August 2021 07:46


The Maine Edge. All rights reserved. Privacy policy. Terms & Conditions.

Website CMS and Development by Links Online Marketing, LLC, Bangor Maine