Annette (2021; Leos Carax)
By Daniel Barnes
*Now playing in select theaters; premiering on Amazon Prime on Aug. 20.
“So, may we start?”
The best film of the year so far.
Holy Motors director Carax takes the logical next step with his English-language debut Annette, an anti-ecstatic musical scored and scripted by Sparks. Annette is an emotionally wrenching song cycle a la Umbrellas of Cherbourg and a technical tour-de-force on par with At Long Last Love, with a special child/shitty parents dynamic straight out of Tommy. Imagine La La Land or A Star Is Born by way of Charlie Kaufman, or a hybrid of Dancer in the Dark and One from the Heart, and you’re at least in the ballpark. Ultimately, Annette is uniquely Carax — consistently audacious, brutishly self-aware, sometimes too clever for its own good but frequently brilliant.
“I’m not that drunk. Let’s waltz.”
Adam Driver, hot on the heels of Joaquin Phoenix for the title of Great American Actor, stars as shock comedian Henry McHenry. Driver can’t sing a lick, but his fearlessness as an actor is intoxicating. He’s willing to go places that few other actors would dare in today’s play-it-safe atmosphere. Meanwhile, the perpetually luminous Marion Cotillard plays opera singer Ann “The Soprano” Defrasnoux, Henry’s more famous better half. If the star-crossed stars set-up sounds a little vanilla, consider that Henry and Ann also sire a red-headed daughter played by an expressionless, possibly haunted marionette. Take that, American Sniper baby!
As in Holy Motors, Carax keeps trying to top himself, blending real locations, astounding sets and solid special effects to create one show-stopping setpiece after another. It doesn’t all work, but enough of it works to make it remarkable.