Now, may we start? This happens to be the chorus of the song that opens Annette, the film that opened the Cannes film Festival this year, but I gotta ask: now, may we start by saying this is the weirdest movie I’ve seen in a long while? Sure, it seems a bit odd to reveal my cards this early, but… it should be said that Annette, from French director Leos Carax, is a film so strange and unusual that it can’t exactly be said that I enjoyed it. What can be said though is it might be the “like it or loathe it” movie of the year, giving The Green Knight a run for its money.
People will either swoon over the insane, nutty ambition of Annette, or they’ll be turned off and… well, turn it off (the film premieres on Amazon Prime Friday, August 20th). Truth is, my needle of opinion went haywire watching this. I hated it, I loved it, it irked me, and I admired it. It’s not a movie that is necessarily enjoyable, but what is enjoyable is its ambition; this is one of those movies where, no matter what your opinion ultimately is, everyone poured their soul into it, and no matter what the reason might be, we can understand. This is the kind of project that is never made, and while it’s a film that I may never see again, I’m also kind of glad it was made, and glad I saw it.
So, a mixed review.
It’s hard to write about Annette because to write about Annette is to talk about Annette, and there is so much to discuss about Annette, but what do you discuss, in the event that someone out there is eager to see it? The word of mouth surrounding the film was that Adam Driver sang into Marion Cotillard’s vagina. Talk about “word of mouth.” Well folks, let me say that this moment occurs at about the 35 minute mark… and as weird as it may sound, it isn’t the weirdest moment in Annette. Another moment follows, and then we’re given the film’s weirdest aspect, and even then, it’s still hard to determine what the weirdest element of this film is. It’s a tough contest, but if you’re curious to see the movie, I wouldn’t dream of giving it away.
The film is basically a bizarre version of A Star is Born, dipped in acid. Driver really gives it his all as one Henry McHenry, an envelope-pushing comedian in L.A. who is very much in love with his girlfriend, Ann (Marion Cotillard). Ann is an opera singer, and as if Cotillard wasn’t angelic enough, she really does have the voice of an angel. Anyways, these two are pretty drastically different in terms of career (in fact, he often jokes about how she goes out on stage every night and dies, while he literally kills his audience with his humor). Despite it all though, these two love each other so much. How do we know? Well, they tell us. Well, actually, they sing to us.
Now, may we start by discussing the fact that I didn’t enjoy the first 40 minutes or so? Sure, the opening song is kind of funny, in a meta sort of way. Here’s the problem though: the hype surrounding the film sparked from the fact that we were in for something really, truly strange. We get a taste of it in those 40 minutes, but it’s not exactly enough. Which, if the story compelled, would be okay. Truth is, I never much felt connected to Henry or Ann, but usually went along for their journey. It would also be okay if the songs, written by the Sparks Brothers (the subject of a recent Edgar Wright documentary) were good, which… eh. While some of the songs here stood out, and some of the melodies struck a chord, a lot of these songs felt underwritten or mundane. Sure, this is very much a musical that sets out to be unlike any musical, I get that. But if you’re going to make an audience sit there for two and a half hours, you gotta give us more. Take We Love Each Other So Much for example. It sounds like a song title, but the title of the song is pretty much the only line in the song. When this song is sang though, is the moment in which the oral sex sequence occurs.
It seemed odd for the film to reveal such a buzzworthy topic so early into the film, but that’s just it about this movie: it only gets stranger from here. The first 40 minutes or so, I debated walking out. The songs didn’t work, the scenes felt awkward, and it made me question my faith in the people of France (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg though, good stuff). The interesting thing about Annette though is that even if there’s hardly a song in it that works, even the most mundane of songs will kind of work here, just as long as something pretty bizarre is happening within the context of the song. Shortly after going down on her, it is revealed that Ann is pregnant. Hard-cut to the delivery sequence, where a group of doctors sing, “breathe in, breathe out, breathe in!” into her vagina has she prepares to deliver her baby daughter.
Then Ann delivers the child, and… okay. If this film has gathered your interest so far, stop reading. Never would I encourage my readers to stop listening to what I have to say (that’s just absurd), but what I’m about to describe is something I never in a million years predicted, and it’s honestly so unbelievably strange and insane to witness on-screen that, if you want to see the film, you should probably just watch the movie and let this take you by bizarre shock. But… here it goes. Ann gives birth to her daughter, and I kid you not… it’s a marionette puppet. It’s creepy and weird, and every time it was on screen I wanted it to go away, but every time it was off screen, out of morbid curiosity, I wanted it back. Nobody in this film acts as if there’s a problem- this is simply just another little girl. Yet anyone watching this will either walk out, or have their eyes glued to the screen, wondering if they’ve been drugged.
So yes, Henry and Ann raise little Annette, their little marionette puppet daughter, and soon enough, some form of tragedy strikes. Won’t share what it is, but it’s shortly after this tragedy where the story of the film appears to be revealed: Annette happens to have the singing voice of an angel, or even her mother. Soon enough, Baby Marionette Annette is given a music career, and the Marionette child baby is even performing at the Super Bowl.
This is one of those films where I felt at war with it the whole time I was watching it. Is it a parody? Is it passionate? It’s probably both. Watching Annette, I was struck by its cinematography and a good chunk of its music numbers, but the songs don’t fully work, nor was there any real connection to the characters or even the story, for that matter, and what transpired before me was so weird that I wasn’t sure whether to enjoy it or mock it. Yet there’s a part of me that really loves Annette. I love the fact that it got made; I love the fact that a group of talented people saw the potential in something so unusual and they brought it to the big screen (it should also be mentioned, if it hasn’t already, that Adam Driver really gives it his all). It’s absolutely nuts, sometimes laughably so, but it’s so ambitious that even if it doesn’t fully work, you kind of have to admire the fact that they went out there, did it, and weren’t even remotely afraid.
So truth of the matter is, I’ll probably never see Annette again, mostly because there is a good amount of the film that isn’t exactly enjoyable, even if it is admirable. Yet what’s tricky is that it is so admirable that… I kind of want you to see it, and I’m kind of glad I saw it. There have been enjoyable movies in my time on this earth where I enjoyed them, but have either never seen them again, or never thought about them again. Annette is one I’ll probably never see again, but forgetting it probably isn’t an option.