On the one hand, it’s understandable that people walked out halfway through Annette at Cannes earlier this year. And that it prompted boos and tepid reviews. It’s an 161 minute rock opera about a tumultuous relationship between Adam Driver’s comedian Henry and Marion Cotillard’s opera singer Ann. It’s that polarising template of a movie – odd and angled and long – that only Cannes does, and does well. Think 2003’s Brown Bunny, 2009’s Antichrist or 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Colour. But it also prompted a five minute standing ovation as the lights came back on.
Driven by 60-year-old enfant terrible Leos Carax, director of Holy Motors fame, and working in tandem with iconic pop duo Sparks (brothers Ron and Russell Mael), Annette is the pet project of all three men eight years in the making. As a result, the duality of the brothers’ pop sensibilities with Carax’s typically untethered vision, is a very enjoyable ride.
The crux of the plot focuses on the resentful nature of Henry’s self-destructiveness and his willingness to bomb his own career as Ann’s soars. When Annette is born, their relationship crumbles further still. Annette’s miracle talent is discovered to a background of murder and mayhem.
It’s all very silly stuff but visually stunning and incredibly entertaining. Though some of the songs lag, the film is amply supported by an enthusiastic and fascinating cast that also includes The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg as the composer with a secret, cameos from Sparks themselves and a literal puppet as child centrepiece Annette.
“It’s all very silly stuff but visually stunning and incredibly entertaining.”
Much of the dialogue is sung throughout to a fantastic Sparks soundtrack. Having come to previous attention for her role in as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, Cotillard has the proven track record. She’s a fantastic singer, if a little drowned out at times by the chorus and Caroline Trottmann’s high octane opera pitch. Driver’s baritone voice is very much his signature and really, finally, comes to fruition during the wonderful Stepping Back in Time.
So what exactly is so polarising about it? Not a lot. It hardly courts controversy, certainly nothing on a level with the unrestrained graphic nature of the aforementioned films. Maybe it’s too pompous? Perhaps Driver’s character, all dressing gown and abs, singing while performing cunnilingus is too much? But it’s just too tastefully shot to be shocking. Or perhaps it’s just because people need drama and will kick up a fuss over just about anything these days? Mostly it’s because the festival needed to let off some steam after the previous year’s cancellation. Every festival needs some controversy, it’s good for everyone, and no one had high hopes for the last film to be screened; Titane. If only they’d waited. Shane O’Reilly