‘Annette’ Review: Love Hurts – The New York Times
“Annette” is a musical about the unfortunate romance between two artists, a description that suggests a clear kinship with “La La Land” and “A Star is Born”. Not to play algorithm or anything, but if you liked these movies you’ll probably like this one too.
Or maybe not. While it belongs, more or less, to the enduring genre of the behind-the-scenes musical, “Annette” aims to be something darker and stranger than another agonizing melodrama about the tangles of ambition and lust. ‘love. It has modern opera in its DNA – a hint of violence, madness and demonic passion that is as reminiscent of pre-WWII Vienna or Berlin as it is classic Hollywood. Rather than singing or dancing at opportune times, the characters broadcast their tormented consciousness through lyrics that are never as straightforward as they seem.
“We love each other so much.” That’s the refrain that comes to mind when you witness the tragic tale of Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and Ann Desfranous (Marion Cotillard), a performance artist and opera soprano whose marriage is catnip for the tabloid media. Their love is the premise of the film and its central dramatic problem. It is also, in a way, a red herring. The sexual happiness and emotional connection that fills the first act gives way to anger and alienation, but it’s not just a love affair with a sad ending. Rather, it is a case study, a critique of the romantic mythology on which its appeal would seem to depend.
A collaboration between Ron and Russell Mael – better known as Sparks, a longtime pigeon-defying band – and director Leos Carax, “Annette” opens with an opening in the key to anti-realism . The Mael brothers, who wrote the script as well as the songs, are in the recording studio. Carax and his daughter, Nastya, are behind the mixer. The cast and crew come out onto the street, and Driver and Cotillard slowly step into character. He puts on a dark, flowing wig, then a motorcycle helmet. She gets into a black SUV. They are now Henry and Ann. The border between artifice and actuality has been clearly drawn for us; for these two, it will be fuzzy, permeable and treacherous.
Carax, whose feverishly imaginative features include “Pola X” and “Holy Motors,” never had much use for the naturalism that serves as the default setting for most filmmakers. The world of “Annette” has familiar place names (including Tokyo, London, and Rio, although most take place in Los Angeles), but it is a land beyond the literal, an invention of set design. , the logic of dreams and hallucinatory expressionism. The fact that the characters sing more than they speak – even during sex – is in some ways the least strange thing about the film, which throws a series of mechanical puppets into the title role.
Annette is Ann and Henry’s daughter’s name, and explaining her centrality in the narrative may be risking a spoiler or two. Not that the plot is terribly complex or surprising; it unfolds with the relentless outburst of a nightmare. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Annette in the stroller. What follows is drunkenness and murder; shipwreck, ghosts and guilt.
But back to the beginning, to Henry and Ann in their season of mutual enchantment. While everyone has a successful career, it’s Henry who gets the most attention. It’s partly charisma, partly narcissism, and quite consistent with her identity as an artist. He is the star and author of “The Ape of God”, a one-man show (with backing vocals) that deals with the kind of belligerent self-display that popular culture sometimes takes for honesty.
Barging onto the stage in a hooded robe that opens to reveal tight boxers and an impressively sculpted torso, Henry harangues audiences with intimate, often heinous confessions. Shame and bravado are the alternating currents of his act, harnessed by a hyper-articulate and cynical self-awareness. The audience laughs, although Henry doesn’t tell so many jokes that he dares the audience to take his aggression seriously.
Is he an internal critic of toxic masculinity or an exceptionally magnetic example of it? It can be a distinction without a difference. With Henry, as with some of his hypothetical real-life analogues, it is difficult to separate art from the artist because the challenge of such separation is the whole point of his art.
Ann is a different kind of artist, and a less pushy presence in the film. She sometimes seems to recoil in the shadow of her husband’s larger and stronger personality. It may seem like a lack of imagination on the part of the filmmakers, who portray her more as the object of Henry’s desire, jealousy, and resentment than a creative force in her own right. She has more in common with Cotillard’s characters in “Public Enemies” and “Inception” than with those of “Rust and Bone” or “La Vie en Rose”.
This imbalance is crucial for this film’s accusation of excused cruelty in the name of genius, its ruthless dissection of male right. It’s less a love story than a monster movie, about a man unable to grasp the full reality of others, including his own wife and child. (The “not all men” objection is embodied by Simon Helberg, playing a conductor who is at times Henry’s rival for Ann’s affection.) The consequences are deadly, and the final toll is too devastating than anything I’ve seen in a recent movie, musical or not.
Driver, some of whose best roles to date have been troubled stage men (see also “Girls” and “Marriage Story”), wastes no energy trying to make Henry likable or exaggerating his meanness. Instead, he’s utterly believable, not because you understand Henry’s psychological makeup, but precisely because you can’t. His megalomania distorts everything. He’s no larger than life, but he thinks he is, and Driver’s performance is perfectly suited to that contradiction.
“Annette” masters her own paradoxes. It’s a highly cerebral, formally complex film about unbridled emotion. A work of art propelled by a skepticism about where art comes from and why we value it the way we do. A fantasy film that takes on some of our culture’s most cherished fantasies. Totally unreal and completely truthful.
Rated R for Sturm und Drang. Duration: 2 hours 19 minutes. Look on Amazon.
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