The voice announcing the “show” tells the audience that singing, clapping, laughing or farting, should be done, only in one’s head. A moment of silence, and then, the voice adds that also “Breathing will not be tolerated during the show”. Opening moments of Annette, the latest feature film by Leos Carax, that opened 74th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, set gruesome yet realistic expectations for the film. There is quite a lot of space for singing, clapping, laughing and all in between, yet it all, over time, gets so twisted and washed out that the opening announcement comes right in place. There are no right emotions for cheap and offensive jokes, power-couple dynamics, sexual misconduct, child abuse and much more…
The film follows the story of Henry- starring Adam Driver, a stand-up comedian/ cheap and vulgar showman performer that goes under the name of “Ape of God”. His jokes are sharp, filled with irony and dark inappropriate humour, and yet, it all somehow works as he showcases the nature of human beings at its truthfully worst. On the side of Henry’s spectrum, there is Ann – starring Marion Cotillard, a splendid internationally acclaimed singer/ theatre performer. At the end of the night, when the curtains go down, Henry and Ann head home together to live the perfect celebrity couple life full of glamorous, cheerful and sensual moments. With the birth of their first child, Annette, a perfectly wood-carved doll of a girl, things start to change in Henry’s and Ann’s lives.
Annette, at its core, is the metanarrative musical/ farce driven by the creative forces of director Carax and the British pop legends Sparks. On the pure audio and visual level, it is hard to find many complaints about it. Music, as a driving force of the film, has a genuine sound that Ron and Russell Mael are known for. When voices and performances of Driver, Cotillard or Simon Helberg – in the role of Conductor, get added to it, magic purely happens. Even without looking at the screen, one could recognise the story structure in the sounds, as well as emotions purely in not words but voices that fill in the film. Of course, with this aspect completely covered and secured, Carax loosens up and gets a chance to do what he does best, provoke and shock, with actions and twists for his characters, as well as with bright colours and a demimonde world that doesn’t want to commit to hyperreality nor down to earth view.
With this being said, it is hard to have a strong viewpoint on Annette. Sure, Carax is genius, his style in the film is strong and distinct, his irony and dark humour profound, yet, it all leaves a bad taste in the mouth by the end of the film. Numerous social issues and controversies of “celebrity” life get touched upon in the film, from the simple fame and glory in the name of being an ass towards the world, over cheap paparazzi world that follows the stars all the way to questions of #metoo, toxic relationships, envy within the world of fame, and in the end child labour (I would like to believe that there are subtle references in the film towards the current Britney Spears events, but chances for this to be intentional are quite low). Still, we never get more of those than being touched upon, we never get to see (in most of the cases) how do characters truly feel, out of their celeb fever dream, nor how do they engage and interact with these issues. With previously mentioned humour and irony, it stays a bit uncertain is Carax saying “f*** you!” to all the issue sensitive world or is he actually commenting on the issues in his own eccentric way.
In the end, Annette is 140 minutes long uncanny musical farce that begs to be seen and yet not enjoyed, asks for commitment and yet intentionally doesn’t deliver to its maximum. This is the film that wants to make relevant social commentary and to shock, but actually delivers the disgust and genuine shallowness of the world. Overall it is a toxic relationship between oneself and the world shaped in the form of film, so saying to love it is as bad as admitting it is hurtful and often too bad.