Annette is a love story between comedy and tragedy. Which is not to say there is a partnership between these two creative impulses. How could there be when the outlook of director Leos Carax and rock band Sparks’ vision is so overwhelmingly tragic that it becomes their musical’s lone guiding star? And yet, seeing how one of those central tenets of performing art subsumes the other, and how Adam Driver’s evermore brooding presence can engulf even Marion Cotillard’s bubbliness, is hypnotic in its way.
As one of the buzziest films to come out of Cannes this year, Annette lives up to its singular hype: Yes, this is an honest to Sparks musical written by mercurial rock stars Ron and Russell Mael, and which features Driver and Cotillard singing during sex. But it’s the way the movie is aware of its inherent strangeness, particularly in moments like the sight of Kylo Ren and Talia al Ghul duetting mid-cunnilingus, that most clearly reveals its fixation with artifice. Indeed, Annette is a movie obsessed with the deceptions we accept, be it as an audience watching characters burst into song, or as lovers who ignore the flaws of our partners to our own peril.
Such is the tale of Henry McHenry (Driver) and Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard). Henry’s a stand-up comic who tells funny lies to make his audiences feel better. Ann is an opera star who performs hard truths about life and death to make her audiences cry. They’re both after the same thing: honesty, yet Henry goes about it through deception, and as a way to hide from the darkness within himself. Ann confronts it every night with comforting beauty, hence why when they meet up afterward, Henry says he “killed” his fans while Ann insists she “saved” hers.
Both lovers are weavers of illusions, so perhaps that’s why when they have a child, newborn daughter Annette literally appears to be a puppet made of cloth. No, really, in Henry and our eyes, she is a puppet, and one with a unique gift that walks the line between Henry and Ann’s talents.
It’s serendipitous that Annette is making its premiere on Amazon now, only a matter of weeks after Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers documentary introduced the titular creative musical talent behind both films to a wider audience. As one of the most peculiar and beloved almost-famous bands of the last 50 years, Sparks are a tremendous musical force that were part of the British Invasion era of rock in the ‘60s and ‘70s (despite being from California) and who endured on to reimagine themselves as pioneers of ‘70s and ‘80s synth music, and then as composers in the ‘90s. With Annette, they try a new hat on as both the writers of the film’s story, as well as the songs which dominate most of the movie’s running time.
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