Rock Opera ‘Annette’ is a passionately overheated melodrama about creativity and cruelty
Writer-director Leos Carax’s daring rock opera “Annette” was the opening night selection of the Cannes Film Festival last month, its gala premiere eliciting boos, walkouts and a standing ovation that lasted so long that movie star Adam Driver had time to smoke a cigarette while everyone was cheering. (The conductor is from San Diego but I think that makes him an honorary Frenchman now.) Eight years of development, this scary and unclassifiable musical whatzit features an international cast performing songs by American pop art duo Sparks and is , in turn, an ecstatic and intensely alienating experience. A passionately overheated melodrama about creativity and cruelty, when it was over I wasn’t sure what I had just watched, but knew I wanted to see it again ASAP. “Annette” might not be a movie for everyone, but setting $ 15 million on fire for such a singular, wacky vision seems to me to be a much more productive waste of Amazon’s money than it is. ‘send a divorced billionaire into space.
Driver stars as stand-up comedian Henry McHenry, who identifies himself as “God’s monkey” and performs in a dress and boxer trunk, along with a crowd of black backing singers. Excruciatingly no fun, he paces and prowls the stage like Tom Cruise in “Magnolia” doing Andrew Dice Clay’s “The Day the Laughter Died” material, contemptuously insulting the audience for being there – and of course, they eat it. . Henry is madly in love with Marion Cotillard’s Ann Defrasnoux, a superstar soprano with a heart as light as his is dark. She speaks sincerely about a singer’s aspiration to uplift and “save” his fans, while after a good show he says he “killed” or “killed” them. Their unlikely affair is the subject of discussion on tabloid television, with the film occasionally interrupted by gossip clippings offering updates on the state of their relationship: it’s not good.
Henry hates himself so much that he can’t understand why a soul as pure as Ann could ever care for such a low life, and despite their perhaps intentionally overplayed schmaltzy chorus of “We Love Each Other So Much”, it’s easy to see the cracks and cracks in this fairytale romance. (Driver’s stage outfit is an obvious homage to “Raging Bull,” but the movie reminded me more of “New York, New York,” the extravagant “musical that beats his wife” about mismatched creations that have almost sank Scorsese’s career.) That doesn’t help much. that she dies on stage every night – as star sopranos always do in opera – fueling macabre fantasies in Henry’s harassed head, which he twists and contorts in tasteless material for his show, immolating dramatically his career amid a literal chorus of #MeToo accusers. When tragedy strikes, it is, of course, inevitable. “Annette” is an opera, after all.
An old enfant terrible who just turned 60, Carax has exploded his own career on several occasions but shows no signs of softening with age. His wild and impenetrable films like “Bad Blood” and “Holy Motors” are so deeply personal that they can sometimes seem made for one audience. So there is a fascinating creative tension in her collaboration with Sparks. Songwriter brothers Ron and Russell Mael have specialized in ironic detachment since the 1970s, so everyone assumes they’re English even if they’re from California. (The group was featured earlier this year in director Edgar Wright’s endless documentary “The Sparks Brothers,” a film so conflict-free and flattering that it resembled a 140-minute episode of “The Chris Farley Show.” .) But Carax doesn’t. make an ironic detachment.
Sparks’ syncopations and their truncated precision go in an interesting way against the director’s messy, full-throated melodrama. This tension emerges from the fantastic opening number, “So May We Start”, in which the band members put down their instruments and leave a recording studio, deliberately walking the streets of the city, bringing together cast members in course. The chanting choir asking “can we?” »Is answered by the French but yes, before everyone rushes to take their places so the film can begin. In staging and composition it is surprisingly similar to the rousing accordion intermission that served as a halftime show in “Holy Motors”, but with a more sinister and ominous backbeat.
“Annette” gets a lot of giggles from the characters singing through situations that don’t really lend themselves to musical theater. Cotillard purrs a lovely stroll on the toilet, and in what has already become the film’s most notorious scene, Driver manages to hold his duet ending while performing cunnilingus. Yet such formal nonsense never breaks the emotional charm of the film, without even the unconventional, shall we say, appearance of the couple’s daughter – a character hidden from the film’s commercials for good reason – interrupting the intensity. bubbling and emotional ardor. Carax 100% engages in the artifice, leaning over the plasticized digital video textures and the sticky projection on the rear screen to create a sleek, bogus world where genuine feelings flutter like sore thumbs.
All of this is unthinkable without Driver, playing a younger, more beautiful variation of Carax’s regular big-screen alter-ego, Denis Levant, with his usual physique. There is no better fulminator in the movies right now. Driver turns frustration into an art form, trying as many shades of resentment as he does wild wigs, while “Annette” travels through years of madness to sad resignation. But yes, Indeed.
“Annette” opens at the Coolidge Corner Theater on Friday August 6 and airs on Amazon Prime starting Friday August 20.