Annette ★★★★½

Where to begin... This was a surreal experience. I've been waiting to see Annette for nearly two years now. I'm a long time fan of Leos Carax - The Lovers on the Bridge & Mauvais Sang are two of my favorite films of all time. Adam Driver has been on my radar since the early days of Frances Ha, Hungry Hearts, and Inside Llewyn Davis. If you've been following @thedanceofcinema on IG, you'll know he is my favorite working actor (close to my favorite of all time). Marion Cotillard is also one of my favorite actors (plus we share the same birthday)... So, needless to say, Annette has always been sort of this shiny, glimmering, enigma of a film, constantly evading my sight. Seemingly the perfect film for me. And now I've finally experienced it...

I fucking loved it. It is filled to the brim with a multitude of interpretations - many moments of it are only what can be defined as pure cinema - something Carax is so good at. Harnessing every aspect of what MAKES a film special (performance, light, sound, and the overall "dance" of cinema)... My only wish for the film is that some sequences were allowed to play out even longer. It did often feel like many scenes were cut short, for fear of extending the already large 2hr20min runtime. But if there's one thing Carax shouldn't be afraid of, it's leaning into the "largeness" of his visions. Done perfectly in the bridge sequence from The Lovers on the Bridge, I was just waiting for one central set-piece where EVERYTHING is let loose. He did deliver - just not to the fullness we've seen in his prior films. But I mean, the fact that this film exists at all is already such wish fulfillment for me. Adam Driver Musical??? All I ever wanted.

Before I get into my readings of the film, I want to highlight my favorite tracks from the score. Starting with my favorite, "Aria (The Forest)". For those unfamiliar with the term, an Aria is long solo song in operas. The composition / chord progressions for this piece are simply just a huge flex from Sparks. The "headliner" song, "We Love Each Other So Much", is the catchiest of the musical, and while it seems almost ironic in its simplicity, a self aware take on the typical love song in the musical genre, the track is actually incredibly harmonized & overall just a fucking hit. I'll be humming it for years... Third, I actually really loved the short piece "True Love Always Finds A Way". Only 1min25sec, but the instrumentation on this hauntingly angelic, choral piece really stuck with me. I love the low bass drum in the back of the mix. This sound appears in a later track as well, which seems to be missing from the Spotify album... Overall, the album is incredibly unique, sexy, and diverse.

THEMES... I have not read any other reviews or analysis - and Carax films always seem to evoke differing takes on singular scenes, but these are what I take away from the film as a whole. First: Music is life itself. The opening images of the film are faded in and out, as the amps are being plugged in. This flicker, along with the audio waves in Annette's birth scene, and Henry McHenry miming mouth to mouth resuscitation, all lead to the idea that this film only exists / the images we're seeing are only visible, because of the music itself. A true musical, by literal definition, and beyond. Something I've never seen in a musical film before. The birth sequence also led me to an idea that Carax has always sort of hinted at in his past films, which all contain elements of "the musical". That music lives within our own lives - through cadence, rhythm, tone, and emotion, he likens cinema itself to an orchestra, a performance, and the sounds of the every day. One of the main issues I have with traditional musicals is that the singing tends to feel forced. Carax is the perfect director to helm a musical, because he understands this inherent weakness of the artifice of "the musical". Annette is perhaps the most reflexive and self aware musicals I've ever seen - and partially due to its intentional blending of stage musical and cinematic musical (which of course are very different in how we perceive them). I won't even get into the more literal messages of the film, like how we exploit our youth (marionette... mari-annette... get it?), or any of the social commentaries like the aspects of climate change, me too movement, cancel culture, criticism of media, etc... It's all so much to take in, that I feel these surface layer ideas actually take away from the purity of what the film could have been. Mainly an issue with the screenplay which was co-written by Sparks (not sure how to attest for their experience as drama writers)... Long story short, Annette is at its best when it isn't trying to be topical. This film didn't need to cover every social dilemma to be relevant and loveable.

FINAL THOUGHTS... Adam Driver is a force of fucking nature in this film. Carax truly used the shell of this musical as a vehicle for Driver to fully command, with every ounce of his physicality, and vocal presence (really leaning into his background as a stage actor at Juilliard)... Is it his best performance? Maybe... Although Marriage Story is still a heavy contender for that spot. Another sure thing: Leos Carax definitely deserved the Best Director award at Cannes, and now, I can totally understand why Annette wasn't awarded the Palme d'Or... But that doesn't make me love it any less. If you plan to see Annette, I'd recommend having seen at least Holy Motors beforehand, to get a taste of the weirdness of Carax.

Like the baptismal imagery within the frames of this film, I am born again. A new outlook on contemporary cinema, and a new chapter in my Letterboxd page. I have never logged films here in diary entries, because I didn't know it was a thing when I first started using the app, and my OCD told me to not start in the middle of having already logged hundreds of films with no watch-date... but I will start with this one. Annette, currently my favorite film of 2021.

When listening to an Opera, one should not be focused so much on the words, or the plot. For then, one is missing out on what's truly important: the MUSIC, and the overall EXPERIENCE.

Bruce liked these reviews