Lola considers Adam Driver and Martion Cotillard’s new romantic musical and its truly bizarre high and low notes.
Leo Carax’s Annette is a musical film that follows the relationship between Ann, an adored opera singer (Marion Cotillard), Henry, a provocative and unpredictable stand up comedian (Adam Driver) and their mysterious puppet child Annette. Although directed by Carax the film was written and composed by the elusive Sparks brothers, once a relic of the ’80s brought back into the light not only by this film but also an Edgar Wright documentary that came out this year.
Much of the buzz around Annette stems from its mystique, its bold absurdity and unapologetic hyperbole. The film is beautiful in moments, the intricate puppetry and set design comparable to that of a Ming dynasty opera. Yet the film suffers from some fundamental problems. The story is largely sung-through and all singing was done live on set, this method sometimes used in the early days of musicals and repopularised by 2012’s Les Miserables is a great deficit to the soundtrack. Singing in motion and with the acoustics of a set is a feat for any well trained musical performer, let alone normal actors with little training. Driver’s singing, in particular, is rather distracting, especially when contrasted with the operatic numbers sung by Cotillard (dubbed over by professional opera singer Catherine Trottmann). As the credits roll the viewer is left wondering, what was that all about?
"As the credits roll the viewer is left wondering, what was that all about?"
The absurdity and flat tone delivery of the film has the capacity to leave the viewer bemused and strung up. There is a distinct sense of tonal ambivalence to the piece. Intentional or not this choice is often confusing. Is Adam Driver’s crass Hicks-like parody meant to be funny or functionally shocking? Why were there fake TMZ scenes next to dramatic musical fights? The lack of tone impacts the cohesiveness of the piece, pulling away from the serious scenes, and the comedic ones.
Annette has become the taste of the film world, and as reviews attest to a musical of romance, public persona, fame, artificiality and parental love, it is arguable that all of these things are not truly discovered. Ann is a deeply underdeveloped character, getting little screen time in comparison to her broody husband and appears to have no personality other than being the sweetheart of the opera world. Fundamentally, she is objectified as a subject to be consumed. The storyline of father-daughter relationships holds great power, as Annette the puppet (despite looking like devil child Chucky) holds within her the mother’s talent and father’s darkest failures. Annette poses as an interesting and touching allegory for the way parents inevitably inflict their children with their own issues. Yet we are often so blindsided by the off-kilter dialogue and other themes of lust, money, power and desire that this message is lost amid rock opera cymbal crashes and Adam Driver’s milky bare chest (that is on show a lot...for some reason).
"As reviews attest to a musical of romance, public persona, fame, artificiality and parental love, it is arguable that all of these things are not truly discovered."
It appears that both Carax and the Sparks have an appreciation for the whimsy and emotion that musicals can provide, but it feels as though Annette is somewhat missing the mark. Annette captures the intrigue and shock that good art thrives on but it struggles to provide more than that. Carax and the Sparks have made something beloved by the film community, but in an age-old test of art cinema, is it for anyone else? As the maxim goes, “write for your audience not your critics!”
That is, if you were to show Annette to a person uninterested in Cannes and the film world's rhetoric, would they feel that same emotion and power that the industry has decided it has? Perhaps not.
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