“But where’s the stage, you wonder? Is it outside, or is it within?”
What a line to include in the opening number of director Leos Carax’s “Annette.”
And what an opening scene, even including Carax himself and the film’s writers, Ron and Russell Mael (of Sparks fame), on screen, playing the opening number while the cast strides down the streets of Santa Monica, announcing the beginning of the show. We are immediately thrust into the powerful draw of performance, a tone that is quickly set for the rest of the film and will quickly turn ominous as the story begins.
“Annette” details the love affair of Henry (Adam Driver), a ranting comedian whose shtick is unconventional, confusing and provocative—speckled with musical numbers by his backup singers who insist his jokes will make you laugh—and Ann (Marion Cotillard), an opera singer whose voice has brought her great fame, nurtured by her patient and secretly-in-love conductor (Simon Helberg).
Though the film reads as a rocky caricature of an opera, sung almost all the way through, it’s important that fans of musical theater not get too excited. There are very few scenes that will satisfy the musical lover’s hunger, though the film does leave a startling impression of a life in constant performance. Every character that crosses the screen in “Annette” is a part of the show, to the point that it can be exhausting at first, and a nod at some deeply unresolved need for Henry to constantly carry on his big act.
Though Henry and Ann’s relationship quickly falls into marriage, their would-be whirlwind romance feels a little bit off—or perhaps it is Henry that feels off. His unchecked antisocial nature is at the forefront of the story, as he seems pretty disconnected from emotions and tries to fake his way through them. This idea could not be any clearer than in Henry and Ann’s alone moments, in which they melodically repeat, “We love each other so much,” a line that would only need repeating if they have to convince themselves of it.
Almost immediately after marrying, the couple has a child, Annette. But with Henry’s provocative nature and the possibility that he has contributed to #MeToo culture numerous times, the seemingly happy parents’ relationship seems to be running out of fuel, and family life gets a little dicey, especially for Annette.
Annette, by the way, is an oddity in more than one way throughout the film. Just the anticipation of her birth causes dream sequences of a baby with a clown’s face. And, when she is born (and for the majority of the film, for that matter), she is depicted in CGI as some kind of living marionette, with wooden joints. In every frame she is in, she represents something to her parents—a reflection of their relationship, or of Henry’s need to feel in control.
Carax’s work in this film is absolutely brilliant. And, while the first half of the film is not exactly enjoyable (a better description would be uncomfortable and on edge), the way he weaves symbolism into every moment—and the careful transformation of the story—is fascinating. This is a perfect example of form before function. The second half of the film seems to focus more heavily on the story. Even the lyrics of the songs start off as hollow and childish, but slowly transform into something beautiful as those simplistic words begin to resonate in different circumstances. The music builds in complexity as these fragile characters start off desperately trying to confirm their emotions by stating them to the audience, then slowly come to grips with their realities by the end of the film.
The film boasts powerhouse performances by Driver, Cotillard and Helberg, as well as a heartbreakingly beautiful final scene that promises to satisfy even the most frustrated of audience members in this bizarre journey of a film. Even with that frustration, it is 100% worth the watch and will definitely give you lots to think about. “Annette” starts at Midtown Cinema in August.
Midtown Cinema is located at 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midcinema.com.
At Midtown Cinema
Down in Front! presents
“The Room” (2003)
Friday, Aug. 13, 9:30 p.m.
3rd in the Burg
“Drop Dead Gorgeous” (1999)
Friday, Aug. 20, 9:30 p.m.
Outdoor Film Series
“The Lego Movie”
Saturday, Aug. 28, at dusk
(Rain date Aug. 29)
If you like what we do, please support our work. Become a Friend of TheBurg!