Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Contemporary opera/drama (with hints of gothic)
Availability: In cinemas
Plot: Instructed to take a last deep breath, the audience is told how to behave. Amongst a number of prohibitions, breathing will not be tolerated during the show… And so begins Annette, a thoroughly extraordinary theatrical film that defies genre. Once clear about what the show will and will not allow, the musicians tune-up and we experience the cadenced ear-worm So May We Start. It’s hard to imagine where the show will go from there. There is a plot buried within, but that’s the very least of what is on offer. French director Leos Carax brings us an astonishing musical that tells of two celebrities, Ann the beautiful opera singer, and Henry a stand-up comedian. To the intense interest of the media, they find each other, marry, and have an unusual daughter, baby Annette. Sadly it’s not plain sailing. Henry, initially the more successful of the two, obsesses that his star is in decline, while Ann’s career, famous for her operatic death scenes, soars. Then we follow the tragic deterioration of their celebrity relationship. But this one is like no other, and soon we are drawn into a compelling tale of jealousy, exploitation and destruction.
Cast: Adam Driver is tremendous as the deeply flawed Henry McHenry who switches seamlessly from charming to offensive, from caring to self-indulgent, and from handsome to ugly. Despite being a successful comedian, his inclination toward self-loathing guarantees him little fun, and his dominating presence in the film ensures that we appreciate this is no typical comedy we are watching. It is a dark film full of malice, but also fantastical magic realism. Marion Cotillard as the ethereal Ann, although having a smaller part is equally outstanding. But inexplicably it’s the casting of baby Annette that is the most emotionally revealing of all. The voice she magically inherits from her mother is palpable in its sadness and her face is a picture of a human despair.
Filming and Setting: American pop and rock band brothers Ron and Russell Mael have written a great soundtrack for Annette. They also put in an appearance at the beginning of the film when they perform So May We Start with the rest of the cast. It’s a classy act that is completed in a single take. The cinematography is terrific, with novel scenes of sheer brilliance. The birth of Annette, accompanied by song (She’s Out of this World), is peculiar and shocking. Also accompanied by song, the bizarre sex scenes are erotic and obsessive – top marks to Driver and Cotillard for keeping on singing throughout! Carax apparently required that all the songs be sung live. Imagine that.
Personal Comments: It wouldn’t surprise me if Annette generates a cult following – it’s the kind of film that some people will go back to again and again. It’s certainly not mainstream nor is it perfect – it drifts halfway through, and it’s way too long. But if you like seriously weird contemporary opera, and are not too disturbed by dark and controlling themes, it is a memorable and entertaining watch. In fact, I might just go and see it again…just to check that they were indeed singing throughout the sex scenes…