Annette is beautiful but all the bad guys are weird

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WWith the future of community cinema feeling so perilous, many of us who love movies might think it’s time to go further or go home. Give me a show or don’t give me anything; don’t just tease me, shake me. It is possible to be both exhausted and hungry for experience, almost any experience. Most of us don’t know what we want right now, so we fumble around, hoping we will know when we see or meet him.

East Annette—The first film in nine years by mad French filmmaker and poet Leos Carax, and a collaboration with enduring and endlessly inventive art-pop duo Sparks — the he we waited? Or is this the movie of the year, be careful what you wish for, the monkey paw that claims to satisfy an unexpressed desire but really leaves you only a handful of air?

As I watch the air in my hand I have to admit Annette is not the movie I hoped for, nor the movie I didn’t know I wanted. A magnificent image to look at but too super polished to be truly moving, it hovers somewhere in an indefinable in-between. I still believe if I think about it more I will like it better, but it’s time to give up. Annette is an extravagant and often inventive film, but it’s not a big one.

Read more: This summer we will go to the movies more and we will like it more

Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver play the mismatched lovers Ann and Henry, both in the show biz but each performing in front of the audience in different ways. Ann is an opera singer, fragile and bewitching on stage, somewhere between abandon and warrior. Every night, she sends spectral melodies into the universe, songs with the clarity of a spun glass cloth. Then she dies on stage, and the crowd goes wild, it’s her signature. Henry is a perpetually angry comedian – his nickname is the Monkey of God – and in the performance he almost literally comes out swinging, wearing a hooded terry wrap that is a cross between a boxer robe and the genre. thing that a bitter old man drags around the house. He challenges his audience by refusing to capitulate to them, and they love it – his pugilism of self-loathing is exciting.

Yet he admits to this audience that he is a changed man now that he has fallen in love with his opera singer. And when, after his show, he walks the streets of Los Angeles to pick her up after her show, you think for a minute that there might be hope for these two – that she can soften her hard edges like you would wear in a pair of leather shoes, and he can give her a bit ballast, to prevent it, a sensitive creature who is, from having completely destroyed the surface of the Earth.

These two are in love – we know this because they sing a thoughtful ballad to each other, “We Love Each Other So Much”, the lyrics of which largely consist of this repeated line. (The driver’s voice is robust, like brown suede; Cotillard’s has the tone and texture of watered pastel silk. There are many that don’t work in Annette, but the sound of these two singing together is one of the charms of the film.) In their minimalist-chic home in the woods, Henry and Ann have lush and elegant sex, including artfully administered cunnilingus. Carax and cinematographer Caroline Champetier stage these scenes beautifully, albeit appropriately: the character’s bodies curl up like pale forest mushrooms brushed in moonlight, an image of fairytale enchantment that is also delicately carnal.

And inevitably, these two conceive of a child, even if she’s not really a child – she is a puppet, a beautifully sculpted puppet with huge ears and features of an ominous, plaintive expression. Her name is Annette and she was born with an extraordinary gift.

Ann de Cotillard gives birth to magical baby Annette, with daddy Henry (Driver) ready to cut the cord

Courtesy of Amazon Studios – © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC

Annette is an opera tragedy written in large loops, as well as in a few very repetitive songs. Ann and Henry can just love each other this kinda – like those little nude statuettes from the 1970s professing their worship with outstretched arms – but that’s not enough to save them. Henry’s love for Ann doesn’t make him stronger and nicer, but angrier and meaner. The size and muscles of the driver are used here to a threatening effect. He’s never been so unsympathetic, which is certainly a feat, if that’s the kind of thing you want to see. Ann becomes a victim of her fury; little Annette becomes a pawn. A fourth accompanist, Ann’s faithful pianist (played, with resounding tenderness, by Simon Helberg), holds a solitary secret.

There are a lot of movies here: Ron Mael and Russell Mael, from Sparks (and the subjects of Edgar Wright’s recent and utterly delightful documentary The Sparks Brothers), have concocted a sprawling mansion of a story. There’s always a new door, almost inevitably opening into a dark room that you might be hesitant to look into. The ending is meant to be poignant, and some may find it that way, but I felt so overwhelmed by the film’s excessive self-awareness that even at the end of this extravagant and sometimes awe-inspiring sprawl, I found myself making echo to Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?

The Maels have been making music under the name Sparks for about 50 years; their work tends to be smart and lively, and punctuated with sharp humor. But they’re also sometimes guilty of being arched, perhaps too caught up in their own nasty pun. And Annette is, on the whole, too knowingly affected. In its deliberate stylization, it’s weird, okay, but it’s assertive weirdness as opposed to organic weirdness. It also suffers from an infuriating lack of clarity, even in its own world of opera and fairytale logic: in one musical number, a group of women show up with MeToo-style allegations against Henry, but this bombshell is dropped and then forgotten. Meanwhile, Ann’s feelings remain largely opaque, and it’s not Cotillard’s fault: she spends a lot of time staring out of her limousine window at a half-eaten apple nearby. She has feelings, clearly, but they are detached from her being, like a cartoon speech bubble.

Marion Cotillard plays a delicate opera singer in 'Annette'

Marion Cotillard plays a delicate opera singer in ‘Annette’

The brothers Mael and Carax may just not be the best; maybe their idiosyncrasies trigger unintentional dissonance. The opening number of the film, “So May We Start? Is the loudest, and it’s exciting: we see Carax and his daughter, Nastya, as well as Ron and Russell Mael and some of the supporting players in the story come out of a recording studio and into the rue, where they are joined by Cotillard, Driver and Helberg. For now, we see these performers as versions of themselves, if not entirely, and their singing is warm and definitive. They’re warming us up for the show to come, promising great wonders to come as they install us that figurative fourth wall that we all love so much.

The opening musical number,

The opening musical number, “So May We Start”, is the loudest in the film.

© 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC

But nothing in Annette, as ambitious and sometimes magnificent as it is, comes close to the haunting beauty of Carax’s latest film, the 2012 Holy engines. In this film, the astonishing acrobatic actor Denis Lavant played a mysterious peddler of dreams and sometimes nightmares, crisscrossing the most beautiful Paris imaginable in a white limousine. The Samaritaine department store – once awe-inspiring, but recently closed at the time of filming – had its own supporting role, hovering over the proceedings like a dismal gray ghost. What is Sacred Motors approximately, literally? Damn if I know – beyond that, it’s about everything we ask of movies, blessings that, if we’re lucky, we actually receive. Annette makes a similar promise of emotional richness, but no matter how much the filmmakers have invested in it, the payoff is meager. It’s a movie that sings passionately for itself, even though we sit patiently the whole way, wishing it would sing for us.

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