Thursday, August 5, 2021

Master Puppet and Barnacles

Annette (2021) - Carax annette It is hard for me to write this review of Annette, a new film from Leos Carax, because he is the director of my favorite film of all time - Les amants du Pont-Neuf. I've been following Carax's tumultuous filmmaking career and was very glad that he came roaring back with much praised Holy Motors, a vibrant vignettes he made over a long period of time (because of lack of financing) with his muse Denis Lavant (as his alter ego Alex). The expectations were high after the success of Holy Motors. The boy genius seemed to be back. Annette, a big budgeted musical, co-written and arranged by musical group Sparks, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, is quite possibly the worst thing I've seen this year, if not in any years. It's not because of its ludicrous premise - a singing baby of the title namesake is played by a CG puppet or Driver's overacting, it's because doesn't contain an ounce of Carax's often bold and brilliant signature cinematic moments that take your breath away.

Carax begin Annette with self-reference, just like in Holy Motors. He is the creator, starting his project in the beginning either on stage or in a control booth of an audio studio. His daughter, Nastya, a doppelganger for her mom, Katherina Golubeva, stands by his side, looking on in the cast, singing. The first song "So May We Start," spills out of the studio as the actors continue to sing on what seems to be the Santa Monica Blvd. Annette tells a relationship between a cynical standup comic Henry McHenry (Driver) and an opera singer Ann Defrasnoux (Cotillard). They soon have a daughter Annette, played mostly by what seems to be baby made out of wood with wooden joint and disproportionately large head, like in Manga drawings. While Ann's career is going well, Henry's dark humor and aggressive antics are getting no fans anymore. He is getting jealous of his famous wife and neglecting his daddy duties. All the while, the tabloid press is hounding the family's every move.

In order to save their marriage, the couple takes a boat trip in the sea with baby Annette in tow. During a storm, in a fit of rage, Henry throws Ann overboard. Alone and washed out, Henry has to make an income for baby Annette. He notices that Annette sings to a certain tune. Now he has an idea for touring with a singing baby with the help of the orchestra conductor (Simon Helberg), who was secretly in love with Ann. Ludicrous. I know.

It was fun to do a guesswork in Holy Motors as how much of it is self referential - Carax's tumultous relationship with Juliette Binoche and monumental failure of Pont-Neuf, because his life was so grand, and operatic and most of all, so romantic. The fundamental flaw of Annette, in my opinion, is it's not based on a lovestory but everything else - career, professional jealousy, parenthood, tabloids and financial security which by comparison, seem ugly and opposite of fantasy and in turn, cinema. No matter how much or loud they sing "We Love Each Other So Much," in Annette, all we see is them falling out of love, not in love.

Love is gone. Cynicism has taken over, therefore, nothing is believable and nothing matters. Everything else is a joke. Once that rare filmmaker who could capture being in love like no other became a cynic and the magic is gone. Driver is no Lavant. He is an ogre of a cynical kind. He belongs in a comedy. Cotillard with her barnacle shoulders, belongs to "Something to Tide You Over" episode in Creepshow.

I did like the on deck of the boat during sea storm scene where buckets of waters are thrown over the actors in rear projection storm. But that can't save Annette from its turgid, uninspiring premise. The spark is gone.

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