by Marta Bałaga
- CANNES 2021: Part-prestige production, part-cult curio, Leos Carax’s weird creation is a Cannes opener to remember
Easily one of the weirdest Cannes opening films in recent memory, or hell, maybe ever, even in the absence of Grace of Monaco or coffee zombies, Leos Carax’s Annette [+see also:
film profile] is an overlong musical featuring Adam Driver devouring bananas, as well as an introduction stating that a) “Breathing will not be tolerated” and b) if one should get the urge to boo or to fart, it’s better to do it in your own head. Which is probably true.
Masterminded by the duo Sparks, who recently got some overdue love thanks to Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers [+see also:
interview: Edgar Wright
film profile], it has Marion Cotillard as opera singer Ann, earning a living by dying and bowing, and dying and bowing. Henry McHenry (Driver), her beloved, is a comedian parading around in a boxer’s robe, never particularly funny but always troubled. He has a motorbike, too, so he is a bad boy alright. They fall in love, hard, to the delight of entertainment-news anchors, then have a baby, Annette. But it’s a dark, twisted tale, this one, and their affection soon starts to wither – unlike the mark on Henry’s face, growing adequately bigger as he sets out on the route to the dark side.
It’s all a bit clumsy and a bit cringe-worthy, as granted just a few quality moments as a couple, which they spend in the forest or tickling each other, the chemistry isn’t quite there. Driver’s singing brings back memories of poor Pierce Brosnan in Greece and baby Annette is, in fact, a wooden puppet, although nobody seems to care. But from the moment that Sparks show up, joined by the whole cast singing “So May We Start” and waltzing onto the streets, Annette is a memorable kind of experiment, even if not all of it makes actual sense.
Not really a two-hander, with Henry eating up all the space, it relies on Driver to bring on the kind of brooding quality he has become known for. And he does, (over)committed enough to deliver some hummable tunes – also mid-cunnilingus – and as he proceeds to make money off his talented wooden child, it’s a wonder nobody yells out “#FreeBritney” at any point. Ultimately, it’s an all-too-recognisable story about a man struggling with his partner’s success, but most of all with himself – so far, so very A Star Is Born, with ghosts. Frankly, it could just as well play as a Midnight Screening, to a crowd that already knows that whenever puppets are involved, things are bound to go wrong. But there is something delightful about this film, going back and forth between laughable, genuinely touching and just mad. So very, very mad.
Annette is a French-German-Belgian-Swiss-Mexican-Japanese co-production staged by CG Cinéma International, Tribus P Films and Adam Driver, in association with Amazon Studios, ARTE and Canal+. It’s distributed in France by UGC, and by Amazon in the USA. It is sold internationally by Kinology.
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