Hate or love it, Annette will affect you deeply, profoundly in ways that cinema seldom does (but it should and would, if only filmmakers treated the medium with the respect it deserves). Annette is a full-blown musical, not just a musical where the protagonists are singers like A Star Is Born or Abhimaan, but a musical in the sense that the lead pair speaks in the musical form.
And what a joy to hear Adam Driver sing! Is there no end to what this maverick actor can do? Within no time, Driver has become one of the most relevant actors of American cinema. We’ve seen him deal with a troubled marriage recently in Marriage Story with savage scrupulosity. Here in Annette the marriage is in far more troubled waters than can be imagined.
I mention waters because the film’s most crucial dramatic episode eventuates mid-ocean, creating further cracks in an already-damaged marriage. Like the two films I mentioned earlier about musical marriages where the wife Anne out-sings the jealous husband Henry, in Annette the stunningly beautiful French actress Marion Cotillard plays an infinitely accomplished opera singer while Adama driver is a crass stand-up comedian, the kind that calls the audience dumb if they don’t laugh at his jokes.
In a career-destroying performance(in which Driver gives a career-defining performance) Henry tells a horribly insensitive cruel joke about killing his wife which the audiences reject. Career over, Henry spends his time sulking seething raging against Anne’s blossoming career. All of this in a musical form with the songs expressing a tormenting uncertainty about the present and future.
The music by a band called Sparks is mind-numbing in its intensity. Every song complements the theme of a marriage destroyed by the ego. A lot of the dramatic tension in the Driver-Cotillard marriage is defined by a purposely stagey ambience. It’s either Driver doing his stand-up act in a green bathing gown (always green) or Cotillard getting killed on stage while she sings in a voice so angelic you wonder how any harm can come to it.
A baby is born to save the marriage. But it only makes things worse. Because, you see, the baby is a wooden puppet. This is the most problematic plot point and the one that has enraged furious critical debates across the world. Why is baby Annette a wooden puppet? Here is my two-bit on it: could it be a manifestation of Henry’s perception of people close to him, that he sees them as means to an end, his end?
If you’ve seen director Leos Carax’s earlier work Holy Motors you would know he perceives human relationships as intrinsically dishonest. In Annette Adam Driver’s Henry never tells the truth,on stage or off it, he is always playing a role. Hence Adam Driver must play a character who is always playing characters. Driver’s portrayal is primeval in its evil designs specially when contrasted against the sublime sincerity of his friend(Simon Helberg) and the heartbreaking innocence of his puppet-daughter Annette.
Strangely the songs never get in the way of the emotions. In the end Annette (now taking human form) sing-tells her self-driven self-loathing father, “You have no one to love”. And there it was: the core truth of this enchanting eccentric eclectic musical excursion into love and trust. Finally the man who cannot stop playing roles is nothing but a lifeless puppet.
Annette challenges our perception as a movie audience like no other motion picture in living memory. It is destined to be counted among the greatest films of all times, as soon as critics stop hating it.
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