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  Annette Sparks Of Inspiration
Year: 2021
Director: Leos Carax
Stars: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell, Angele, Natalia Lafourcade, Julia Bullock, Claron McFadden, Natalie Mendoza, Kiko Mizuhara, Noemie Schellens, Kanji Furatachi, Rila Fukushima, Laura Jansen, Ron Mael, Russell Mael
Genre: Musical, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Can we start? This is the story of two people who seemed destined to be together then seemed destined to be apart. Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) was a conceptual standup comedian who would stage his shows as if he were a boxer emerging from the dressing room into the smoky atmosphere of the boxing ring, and his style was combative too, even though the audience would encourage him gladly. Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard) seemed out of his league, an opera singer specialising in rarefied high art in the theatres of the world a huge draw for the cognoscenti. But they fell for each other, and hard...

Annette was originally going to be one of the art rock duo Sparks' concept albums, with a pared down number of leading roles to be easier to tour, but somehow they got into league with renowned cult director Leos Carax, and he was very keen to film this as akin to a seventies rock opera, featuring a score that was continuous, and catchy without being obvious. With a lot of repeated motifs, the Brothers Mael built up a soundscape of textured melodies that may have never really resolved themselves into a series of individual songs as an album might in the traditional sense, but did propel the narrative of Henry and Ann's creeping downfall.

The story itself was like a retelling of the Punch and Judy show, only taken very seriously indeed so that the inherent (some would say supposed) humour of the centuries-old display was drained out of it, not that it was not absurd on some level, as Sparks and Carax could often be. Yet just because there was a preposterousness about the melodramatics that unfolded for well over two hours did not mean you could not be swept up in their emotions, though you imagine there would be equally many who would be utterly baffled at what they were supposed to think about all this and reject it out of hand, cultural references or no cultural references.

Basically, if you wanted to see Mr Punch caught up in the #MeToo movement, there was no way this film was going to make fun of that, and indeed without giving too much away the punishment the evildoer here was suffering was all too apt, though no less tragic for it. For the first half, Henry and Ann are loved up, repeating in song "We love each other so much!", even when getting down to making a baby in their bedroom. But more than that, they are creating something otherworldly as the tone of the music indicates, and you will have trouble predicting where the narrative is heading from one scene to the next. Most blatantly because when the baby is born, it turns out to be a puppet, one which grows over time like a normal child, but a puppet nonetheless.

Nobody comments on the marionette nature of Annette, as she is called, but we can't help but notice, it's right there in your face in every scene she is appears (until... ah, well). As appropriate to a movie where even incidental characters perform, and whole audiences and crowds become choirs, there was a performative theme to much of this, with the parents making their living on a stage and Annette being tempted in the latter half as well. Sparks and Carax teaming up seemed such an obvious collaboration that you wonder why more artistes and directors don't do the same: sure, there could be some cinematic trainwrecks, but they were so inspired by one another that you could perceive a union of talents can go beyond a mere ensemble cast or writer's room. It was as bizarre as their individual efforts, but somehow they achieved a result that was as much in their individual canons as anything they had done separately. A determinedly odd project, not for everyone, but their followers were surely going to be transported.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Leos Carax  (1960 - )

Stylish, semi-improvisational French writer-director, a former critic who developed from short films into features with the well regarded Boy Meets Girl. However, it was the futuristic romance Mauvais Sang that really awarded him international attention and all looked well for his lavish love story follow up, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. Unfortunately it was a failure and it was the end of the nineties before his subsequent film, family drama Pola X, arrived. Carax's cult following increased when after making short films for the next decade he completed his curious, much discussed feature Holy Motors which delighted and confounded in equal measure. By contrast, his musical with art rock band Sparks Annette was more conventional - but still weird. Often works with Denis Lavant.

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