Written by Taylor Baker
The Mael Brother’s long awaited cinematic foray happens to coincide with the same year that beloved filmmaker Edgar Wright released his aptly titled The Sparks Brothers documentary detailing the loose threads, songs, and albums along the duo of brothers persistent multi decade ride to successful obscurity. So it’s fitting then that eclectic and beloved filmmaker Leos Carax who the average theater goer wouldn’t recognize the utterance of from a newly released cleaning product helms the gestated project Annette. The film stars two well loved performers in Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, alongside a perhaps more recognizable face, that of Simon Helberg of Big Bang Theory fame, in which he plays Howard, with a loud mother frequently yelling at him from just offscreen. Annette is a rock opera as difficult to describe and elusive as it’s writer/composers and director are, respectively.
It’s lovely then that I get to muck around trying to describe something so unique and unabashed. Perhaps best described as absurd realism, the film starts with it’s creative team beckoning us to start with a sumptuous long take and the clever lyrics “Shall we now start?” continually refrained. It’s a joyous beginning, one that had my crowd laughing and gently clapping mere minutes into the film. Unfortunately that tone of abruptness leaves the film as quickly as Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) leaps onto his Triumph motorcycle and powers out of view.
That’s not to say it’s all downhill from there. But … It is different. In a way that generally not many films are. It’s magnetically cold, you can’t look away, but you also wish it would just give you something to hold onto. Or at least I did. Instead it weaves itself, completely self seriously around a story of abrupt lovers with a puppet child born amidst a musical number. The fact the child is a puppet is essentially never addressed, which is part of it’s charm. You’ve doubtless heard of Adam Driver singing while performing cunnilingus on Cotillard by now, but that fun snippet really does little to properly express the other bat-shit tomfoolery found along it’s varied segments and asides.
Annette is an opera, malformed and beautiful in ways that so many pieces in the medium are. The dead lover risen from the sea, the levitating child prodigy, the murderous father, the “true” father, and the creators themselves placed just out of reach within the story itself. It feels like a film that would have perhaps been celebrated to a greater extent if it had remained unmade. As Jodorowsky’s Dune or Confusion the unmade Jacques Tati film that the Mael Brother’s would have co-starred in. Or another of the brothers previously scrapped projects, an adaptation of Mai, the Psychic Girl with Tim Burton helming. But this sort of quixotic, unwieldy, and unyielding presentation doesn’t quite hit the mark of deeper meaning that I’ve come to (perhaps wrongly) expect from Carax. That’s not to say there isn’t meaning there, it’s just so nonconforming and deeply unconventional that without more time, discussion, and additional viewings I will be unable to properly elucidate it. Sometimes works of arts need time to mature, and viewers distance to graduate their appreciation of, before revisiting with a careful more studied eye.
Carax gets his well known long take pieces of genius, with a performer leading the audience along so convincingly that despite all the obtrusion one may find from the rock opera genre you simply can’t look away. And that’s really the heart of it, for me. Annette is akin to a glorious train wreck just about to happen. Though it never does. And it’s oozing heartfelt earnestness carries such vast goodwill to the audience that even if you don’t like it, you’ll likely stay to the end. Even if it’s only to seek some sort of answer for the varied range of befuddlement’s some of which I listed above that the film provides. I can’t say I loved Annette, but I can say I’ve never quite seen anything like it, and I love knowing that it exists.