booboosnack’s review published on Letterboxd:
I stayed for the credits because I always do so for any film regardless of where I'm watching. So for your convenience, here's a contemporary Carax checklist:
- Green-clad male main character (perhaps to signify jealousy, confusion from being too grounded that the individual themselves grew two left feet, or the character being an outlier from the rest of society, and for the rest of society to exploit or be entertained by)
- At least one character is a redhead
- Fucking. Not sex. FUCKING.
- Characters sitting at the back of limousines
And of course, characters being contemplative or crying on motorcycles.
Seems like Leos Carax has fully and quite literally cleaned up his act, having come to prominence through distinct visual filth. Some of it remains, but for all the digital sheen it's now viewed through, it becomes significantly more difficult to deny how the quality of Carax's filmography has waned as the breadth of his work only continues to progress. The filth becomes fragmented, but perhaps cleanliness being just as filthy is as much of a statement as it is a setback. Most of all, this isn't (hopefully) going to be Leos Carax's final form.
It's not as if his signature eccentricities are constantly being discouraged, but they've seemed to grow tame over time, paling in comparison to the unbridled wilderness of Alex's youth, and even the unrelenting desolation of Pola X, an unlikely entry in Carax's body of work that would project the recurring presence of those same elements I listed at the beginning of this post.
I think anyone, regardless of whether they're well-versed in Carax's filmography or not, will walk away from this film having expected more things to be conveyed with a sense of closure, or at least a matter of embracing unconventional ambiguities, because a sense of clarity isn't what should be expected first when it comes to any of Carax's works.
At most, he has succeeded his peers by a landslide, but he doesn't remain exempted from the same reasons that allowed Jean-Jacques Beineix and Luc Besson to fall through. While swept up by a mastery of visual stylization, cinema du look has succumbed to a lack of visual substance.
Despite Carax having been able to balance both throughout the majority of his films, Annette falls short of what essentially feels like a staged extension of Holy Motors' recurring elements, only that they're now attached to anglophones and have been reduced to tropes, rather than signifiers of a message that is not only prevalent throughout contemporary interpretations of the cinematic image, but even more profound (especially as a proponent of culture in an era that values accountability more than ever) than it appears to be.
Ann certainly deserved better development, and so did Marion Cotillard in general, as it is more than an honour for any actor who has made rounds in French cinema (especially the most internationally successful French actress of this century) to be able to work with someone as endlessly creative as Leos Carax. Unfortunately, it does feel weird that a story that touches on parenting barely focuses on a mother's perspective, especially because Ann beared enough (and enough of) life into Henry to even birth the gift of their child.
I'm more than happy that the Sparks Brothers finally got their due, and there's really no denying that their storytelling is (and has always been) through the roof. Leos Carax's directorial style only alleviates that, but not much to the benefit of making a musical of this caliber (and especially in a style that only one director in all of cinema continued to perfect) that really could have been a lot more than just a myriad of expository narration being carried by music (some compositions, to be honest, fall relatively flat and feel forced - in Carax's eyes, I expected a natural burst or release), rather than both elements gelling well together. Although the use of motifs wasn't anything too extraordinary, it remained impressive for the story it had to work with. Perhaps this was the only sense of closure with a narrative that still remains so vague.
I still have relatively mixed feelings about this film, given that so much of it is still fresh in my mind. On one note, Simon Hedberg just keeps getting better and better in these films too. It's more than satisfying to see him rising from the ashes of the bowl-cut dork that was Howard.
In fact, the conductor was perhaps the best written character in this entire film. Which only continues to beg this question - How do the identities of secondary characters constantly seem to have better coherence than the main attractions?
On another, it's also nice to see Leos Carax be able to just throw anything in front of a camera and manage to make some parts stick. However, at the end of it all, I really expected more from everyone involved, especially because of how ambitious this film's concept really is.
I do have to give credit where credit is due though. For over 30 years, Caroline Champetier has been responsible for shooting some of the most visually stunning films of the post-French New Wave era. Having been Leos Carax's long-term DP, she pretty much continues to hold the fort down with this film. Whatever else is there to make of this film isn't even remotely present. It really sucks, because this is also the first time that a Leos Carax film has significantly underwhelmed me. But of course, too many great things have to come to an end. At least Henry and Pierre faced the same fate.
Oh, and for the record, that is one ugly baby.