Leos Carax is a bizarre, yet brilliant filmmaker. You’re either with him or against him, so to speak. Regardless of what you think of him, a new Carax film is always an event in its own right and that is exactly what Annette is. His first feature since 2012’s Holy Motors, Annette premiered in Cannes after one of the strangest years we have endured and what a fitting Cannes opener Annette seems to have been. Annette is a strange beast and I’m not entirely sure it’s a movie or a musical at all, but a rollercoaster ride or perhaps just Carax toying with us.
Annette follows Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and Ann Defrasnoux’s (Marion Cotillard) love story, if you can call it that. Henry is a savage stand-up comedian on the rise and Ann is a beloved singer. Their love is passionate and fierce and erotic but it turns sour when Ann gives birth to a baby girl they name Annette and Henry is forced to stay at home with the baby while Ann’s star keeps rising.
If you’re thinking Annette bears resemblance to the beloved A Star Is Born, think again. There are barely words that can describe Annette and it feels absurd to be giving it a star rating; Annette is simultaneously the best and the worst film I have ever seen. It’s quirky, weird, challenging, intoxicating, silly and erratic and I have never seen anything quite like it. It’s a film that lurks at the back of your mind for days and weeks after watching and while it’s not particularly profound or says anything new or interesting about toxic relationships, is filled with symbolism and metaphors.
Driver might be one of the best male performers of all time. While he’s subdued and calm in interviews and in person, his ability to completely transform himself on camera is miraculous and impeccable. He is a completely fearless performer, one who is able to find the most extreme ends of himself and apply them to a character seamlessly. His performance as Henry is charismatic and real, terrifyingly so at times.
Equally good is Cotillard as the almost angelic Ann, but perhaps a little surprisingly, it’s Simon Helberg, as Ann’s accompanist who becomes the story’s most tragic and human character. Best known as The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz, Helberg here is refined, nuanced and his performance is internal with flashes of anger and grief that bubble up to the surface at times.
Annette is written by Russell and Ron Mael, better known as Sparks and it might be your familiarity with Sparks as a band that determines how susceptible you are to Annette’s powers. It’s by no means your usual musical and the songs aren’t catchy and your foot won’t be tapping all the way through the film, but perhaps that’s exactly where Annette’s brilliance lies. It challenges you, constantly asks more from you as a viewer. It cannot be consumed passively; Annette needs to be chewed and thought over, experienced and digested.
So, really, the star rating of this review means very little until you watch or experience Annette yourself. Attempt it, let yourself go with its highly strange flow and perhaps you’ll love it, perhaps you’ll hate it. But think of it, you will, for days. Carax directs Annette with such fury and empathy, but with high levels of inconsideration for traditional storytelling. It’s an event, it’s a movie, it’s a story. Or perhaps it’s more than that.
Annette is available on MUBI and Blu-ray and DVD now.