Annette 8 points
Address: Leos Carax.
Script: Ron and Russell Mael.
Photography: Caroline Champetier.
Interpreters: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Dyson-Smith.
Duration: 140 minutes.
Premiere: on the Mubi platform.
In his founding book The romantic soul and the dreamAlbert Béguin established once and for all the relationship between German romanticism and French poetry, while pointing out that the poetic experience of the romantics led to the dominance of the night. On Annette, the director Leos carax affirms himself as the great romantic poet of French cinema and confirms what was already evident in his scarce, disturbing previous work and very particularly in Holy motors (2012), his immediately preceding film: that his universe is definitely oneiric and nocturnal, barely illuminated by the exalted glow of the moon.
Based on a musical tragedy written and composed by the New York duo Sparks (see separate interview), Carax – at the very beginning of the film – reserves the role of demiurge with the brothers Ron and Russell Mael. They are the three of them who from a recording studio, under the spell of the powerful song “So May We Start”, are adding actors and technicians, and take them out to the bustling night of the city of Los Angeles, where finally Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, the leading couple, puts themselves in the shoes of their characters. It is a choral sequence shot, virtuous in several ways, not only because of the technical prowess and contagious dynamism that it imposes on it at the beginning of the film, but also because of what it announces and what it achieves: what will be seen is a creation, a pure artifice, but with the ability to become flesh, to materialize in a disturbing fantastic story where love is fatally associated with death.
What can a stand-up star and an opera diva have in common? Nothing, except a love that seems doomed from the beginning, even though two of the first songs – in a film that makes their dialogues of them – insist on affirming that “True Love Always Finds a Way” and “We Love Each Other So Much “. But despite all the love they profess, Henry and Ann inhabit watertight compartments, isolated worlds, even antagonistic: that of pop and opera, low and high culture. Although it is difficult for him to admit it, he is a mere product of show business, a shooting star that is known to be on the verge of extinction and that is why he increasingly attacks his audience, in the most evident manifestation of his violent and self-destructive nature. On the other hand, she is at peace with herself and has a gift, her privileged voice, which will be inherited by their daughter, little Annette.
That in the film Baby Annette is represented from the moment of delivery by a puppet expresses not only the fantastic will of Carax’s film but also its monstrous nature. But where the real monster is Henry, a jealous, egocentric, manic, manipulative character, capable of all the worst in order to perpetuate himself on top of a success to which he has become addicted as a morphine addict.
The twists of the script are many and increasingly sinuous, in a sort of downward spiral towards the abyss (“Sympathy for the Abyss” is precisely the title of the final song), so it is advisable to keep a certain reserve when talking about the plot of Annette. But it is possible to mention the echoes that resonate in Carax’s film, which are never explicit references, quotes or tributes, but rather the magma that feeds the imagery of the film. Those resonances range from The umbrellas of Cherbourg –The musical tragedy par excellence, alluded to by the Sparks themselves in the accompanying interview- or A star Is Born, where the male protagonist was also a toxic figure (particularly in George Cukor’s version with James Mason and Judy Garland), to the fantastic tales of ETA Hoffmann with dolls that speak, or dominated by the figure of the double, which here in Annette it also manifests itself in a distressing way towards the middle of the film.
The remarkable thing about Annette is that his clear romantic Gothic affiliation does not prevent him (rather the opposite) from raising serious questions to contemporary mass culture, dominated by less metaphysical terrors: the society of the spectacle, the fetishization of success, child exploitation or the banality of the large public, hypnotized by the morbid and moved by unhealthy curiosity. Past and present merge in the eternal night of Annette.