From the opening scene, which sees the cast singing out of character, to the fact that the titular role is played by a marionette doll (yes, Annette the marionette) – there is so much in Annette to talk about that I don’t know where to start.
The film follows Henry McHenry (Adam Driver), an eccentric stand-up comedian, and Ann Desfrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), the star soprano at the opera, through an intense romance. We see them as they fall in love and welcome baby Annette into the world. But soon the cracks start to show, and the film takes a surprising turn.
Every single actor is superb, but Adam Driver shines. His performance is mesmerising, and you can tell how much he has thrown himself into being McHenry. It’s not hard to imagine him, or any of the rest of the cast, collecting plenty of praise when award season comes around.
At first, the two-and-a-half-hour run-time felt daunting – it felt like it was never going to end. But as I adjusted to the oddness, I became captivated by it all. It helped me to not think of it in terms of what a film or a musical “should” be. Annette exists as its own entity within cinema, and it deserves to be watched that way.
Musical duo Ron and Russell Mael, better known as Sparks, wrote most of the music for Annette before they knew anyone would want to make it into a film. Luckily, the concept album caught the eye of French director Leos Carax, their strange nature, paired with Carax’s affinity for the surreal, is a perfect match and it’s clear that no one else would have been able to do the music justice.
Carax chose to have the actors sing live – a difficult thing to do mid-cunnilingus, while underwater or giving birth. The only other time I can recall this being done on screen is for Les Miserables, which infamously left many of the actors singing out of time. Safe to say Annette did a far better job.
It’s hard to know whether Carax is trying to say something bigger at moments in the film. The #MeToo reference, in particular, stands out for all the wrong reasons. It’s over and done within one song, never to be mentioned again. The purpose it serves isn’t quite clear and it is so overshadowed by everything else going on that you might even forget it happened. Supposedly having been written in before the #MeToo events ever happened, it was a confusing choice to leave it in.
There is no denying that Annette is spectacular, but whether I would recommend watching it is something I struggled with. Initially, I would have said no, but the longer it marinates in my brain the more I want to watch it all over again. Carax treads the line between crazed genius and completely pretentious but eventually falls on the right side. The ambition and lack of care for what anyone thinks is admirable – it’s refreshing to see a film show such originality in a world of superheroes and reboots.
Films like Annette are an acquired taste, they perplex you in ways you didn’t know possible and enjoying them isn’t easy. However, if you open yourself up to it, it is really something wonderful.
Annette is in the cinema from September 3rd.
Featured image credit: The New Yorker.