“Annette ”Is a film that is probably best experienced rather than described.
Anyone familiar with the work of French director Leos Carax, best known for Denis Lavant’s surrealist fantasy “Holy Motors”, probably already knew. But add the fact that the screenplay and music was written by the Sparks Ron and Russell Mael duo, known for their sophisticated, theatrical, and irreverent songs, and “Annette”, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, adds something that is beyond belief. explanation. This postmodern pop opera is wildly unique, often infuriating and sometimes even enlightening. Oh, and there’s a little baby wooden puppet that can sing along, but we’ll get to that later.
While I can’t say I have anything that looks like an understanding of ‘Annette’ or even enjoyed most of the trip, it’s also something that has persisted. And the further I move away from “Annette”, the more I admire her great shameless strangeness.
The story set in Los Angeles centers around a couple of artists and their passionate and volatile relationship. The driver is Henry McHenry, a caustic and provocative stand-up and performance artist in a green boxer robe, who despite his intellectual superiority and contempt for almost everything, appears to have a loyal fan base who genuinely appreciates his hostile comedy. And it turns out he loves one thing: Ann Defrasnoux de Cotillard, an opera singer he recently started dating.
It’s a mismatched pair. She is grace, saving her audience every night. It is the devil who kills his. But they’re in love and eager and together they become a media sensation on par with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, whose every move is covered by the Showbizz News, a cheap nod. And soon they welcomed a child, baby Annette, who has big ears and a wooden frame. Yet despite all its artificiality, baby Annette is as disarming as a baby in her movements. And baby Annette has an extraordinary talent that manifests itself after a tragic night on a boat.
There’s also another character – perhaps the only truly likeable character – in Simon Helberg’s funny, heartbreaking accompanist-turned-conductor who delivers a reliable levity amid all the uproar.
Even though Cotillard (gorgeous, as always) is certainly the co-lead, this really is Driver’s show and he’s breathtaking. Is there a more disarming actor working today? Here he fully embraces his animal physique to create a towering and dangerous character that you can only truly love when seen through Ann’s eyes. It becomes a bit of a problem later on for reasons I won’t go into, but even if you don’t like Henry McHenry, you can’t take your eyes off him.
“Annette” is mostly sung, moreover. And although the music doesn’t look like an opera, its spirit looks more like that form than a musical. Like the other Sparks and Carax creations, it’s just its own thing. The artificiality and flashing sarcasm can even be squeaky at times, which you understand is the point. What the filmmakers have called the “multi-layered irony” of the project can be difficult and alienating. And yet there are moments of breathtaking transcendence in film and music, alongside extraordinary acting and puppet work.
Will you come out with some kind of high understanding of performers, love, or tragedy? Maybe not, but, again, this thing called “Annette” has a way of settling in your mind whether you like it or not. If you’re at all intrigued, you should let Carax and the Maels take you on this bizarre journey.
But don’t get me wrong: “Annette” is an enigma. And maybe that’s good enough.
“Annette,” a limited Amazon Studios release Friday and streaming August 20, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language, nudity, and sexual content.” Duration: 140 minutes. Three out of four stars.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Children under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr