Directed by Leos Carax and screenplay by Leos Carax, Ron Mael, and Russell Mael from a story by Ron Mael and Russell Mael, Annette is the story of a stand-up comedian and a singer who fall in love as their lives are changed by the birth of their first child who displays an exceptional gift and a destiny that she is to fulfill. The film is a musical of sorts with music and songs written by Ron Mael and Russell Mael of Sparks with additional lyrics by Carax as they appear in the film as it play into the lives of two artists who deal with their child as well as their own marriage. Starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Dveyn McDowell, and Angele van Laeken. Annette is a grand yet astonishing film from Leos Carax.
The film revolves around the titular baby who possesses a special gift from her parents as they had fallen in love and go through a lot following her birth while doing what they can in showing this gift from their daughter to the world. It’s a film with a simple premise yet it is told in unique fashion by Leos Carax with Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks where most of the film’s dialogue is sung as each song that is created does tell a story of an opera singer and a stand-up comedian who meet and fall in love where they create this child with a gift that would amaze the world but also reveal major cracks in their life. Notably as it play into the diverging careers of Annette’s parents in the opera singer Ann Desfranoux (Marion Cotillard) and the provocative stand-up comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) who meet when both were on the rise but Annette’s birth would see Ann’s career soar and Henry going on a downward trend due to his increasing provocative ideas of the world. Following this schism in the two and tragedy, both would discover Annette’s own gift where Ann’s longtime accompanist (Simon Helberg) would play a role in showing the gift to the world but also unveiling some revelations as it relates to Annette’s gift.
Carax’s direction definitely play into elements of surrealism yet much of it is straightforward in the way it presents the life of a couple and their daughter with this amazing gift. Shot largely in Los Angeles with additional locations in Brussels, Bruges, Berlin, Cologne, and other parts of the world, the film opens Carax playing the role of a music producer where Sparks is playing the song So May We Start with the actors singing along as they all walk out of the studio as it’s sort of everyone breaking the fourth wall before they all take part in this story that is to be told. The songs that Sparks created with Carax providing additional lyrics add to the story as the song help set a mood for a scene in the film while it also play into the drama that unfolds. The songs play into elements of opera, rock, pop, and kitsch with some interludes told through tabloids as it relates to the celebrity life of Ann and Henry. With the aid of music supervisor Pierre-Marie Dru, the songs that also include other songs from Sparks and some classical musical piece do also maintain this world that Annette is a part of as she is at the center of a universe through her gift. The presentation of Annette is in the form of puppetry as she was created by Estelle Charlier and Romuald Collinet as it does play into a metaphor of sorts in how Henry views women including his wife whom he feels overshadowed by her own success and adulation.
Carax’s usage of long shots in some of the close-ups and medium shots add to the film’s intimacy as well as allowing the actors to sing their songs in an entire take as it help play into the drama while also creating intense scenes such as a scene on a boat where Henry is drunk as he dances with Ann. There are also wide shots that Carax uses that play into some of the opera scenes of Ann performing with the accompanist in the background in a few scenes as well as the scenes during the third act as it relates to Annette and her gift. Notably in how Henry wants to present Annette to the world and his own motives as opposed to what Ann wanted as it adds to this element of turmoil where it is vast in the presentation. Yet, Carax would find ways to not play into convention as its ending is more about not just loss but also something much deeper into what this child had become. Overall, Carax and Sparks create a majestic yet exhilarating film about an opera singer and a stand-up comedian and the daughter that they created.
Cinematographer Caroline Champetier does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as it often vibrant and colorful for many of the interior settings and the way the daytime/nighttime exterior settings look as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Nelly Quettier does brilliant work with the editing as it does bear some style in some jump-cuts for a few performance scenes along with montages and dissolves to help flesh out the story. Production designer Florian Sanson and set decorator Marion Michel do excellent work with the look of the home that Henry and Ann live in as well as the stage design of Ann’s shows and Henry’s performances as well as Annette’s room. Costume designers Pascaline Chavanne and Ursula Parades Choto do amazing work with the costumes from the clothes that Henry wears including his robe for his show as well as the stylish clothes that Ann wears in her own performances.
Hair/makeup designer Bernard Floch do fantastic work with the looks of Henry and Ann with the former given different haircuts throughout the film with Ann sporting different looks for her shows and at home. Special effects supervisors Thomas Desmet and Arne Normon, with visual effects supervisors Ryan Bardoul, Guillaume Pondard, and Geraldine Thiriart, do terrific work with the film’s visual effects as well as the movements of the puppet in some scenes as well as the design of some of the stage design in some parts of the film. The sound work of Thomas Gauder, Paul Heymans, Katia Boutin, Maxence Dussere, and Erwan Kerzanet is superb in the way objects sound as well as the way some of Henry’s stage performances are presented at a club and the way audiences shout at Henry as it helps add to the atmosphere in those scenes.
The casting by Carmen Cuba, Marjolaine Grandjean, and Mustapha Souaidi is wonderful as it features appearances from Sparks as themselves in the film’s opening scene and as airline pilots as well as small roles from Wim Opbrouck as an announcer for Baby Annette, Belgian singer Angele Van Laeken as one of a group of women accusing Henry of abuse, Rila Fukushima as one of three nurses, and Devyn McDowell as the older Annette with Hebe Griffiths as the singing voice for the puppet version of Annette. Simon Helberg is incredible as the accompanist as a man who often accompanies Ann in her musical performance as he strives to become a composer as he notices Annette’s gift as he helps her flesh it out while having issues with Henry over Annette while carrying a possible secret of his own.
Marion Cotillard is phenomenal as Ann Defrasnoux as an opera singer who is beloved and revered while also being this great mother to Annette as she would also deal with her husband’s faltering career and the events that happened leading to Ann becoming known to the public with Catherine Trottmann being Ann’s soprano singing voice. Finally, there’s Adam Driver in a tremendous performance as Henry McHenry as this provocative stand-up comedian with a dark sense of humor who finds his career in decline as he becomes erratic and selfish where Driver brings a lot of energy to his performance as well as being this calm and emotive singer.
Annette is a spectacular film from Leos Carax and Sparks that features great performances from Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg. Along with its dazzling visuals, grand story about art and love, and a phenomenal music soundtrack from Sparks. The film is an unusual yet enthralling rock opera that explores two artists who fall in love and create a child with an exceptional gift that would prove to be their undoing as well as revelations about who they are as people. In the end, Annette is a tremendous film from Leos Carax.
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