Annette ★★★★½

“Baby Annette is just a baby after all.”

I’ll start from the top: I loved this movie! It was a unique, absurd, and emotional musical journey presented in a way only someone like Leos Carax could bring to life. And last night, I got to see him in the flesh at a Q&A held at the Lincoln Center in NYC! He was such an enigmatic presence, and honestly he trolled a lot of the folks asking questions (Carax quote, paraphrased: “I don’t know why I do Q&A. I should be doing Q&Q… and doubt”). I had my hand raised, but time didn’t permit for me to ask my question — no biggie. Nevertheless, it felt awesome to see him explain or invite us in (somewhat) into his creative process and mindset while making Annette. It all just further enhanced my viewing, and even without the Q&A, I still would’ve loved this film.

The songs are the film’s lifeblood, and really, the essence of this movie comes from The Sparks Brothers as the film’s writers: music and screenplay. Doesn’t surprise me that the music for this film wasn’t intended to be for film, but after Sparks met Carax at Cannes nearly a decade ago, they decided to work with Carax and bring these theatrical songs to life. According to Carax, some of the original songs appear as was written in the film, but some were adapted to fit the new vision of the work. The songs are toe-tapping, ridiculous (at times), and dramatic without being too melodramatic. It just works, baby.

Huge fan of Caroline Champetier’s camerawork. I admire the movement and kinetic energy of it — the movie is slightly meta, as it’s about the artistic process and creating, and sometimes the camera moves as if we were just sitting in an audience chair, mystified by Henry McHenry or Ann Desfranoux, but other times, it seamlessly transcends to another plane where we discover the bliss of creating. The circular camerawork around Simon Helberg and the orchestra is a personal favorite. It’s magical.

From an acting perspective, this is Adam Driver’s movie, and he’s once again powerful, slightly strange, and ceaselessly captivating as Henry McHenry, a stand-up comedian and lover with a dark edge. Marion Cotillard is hypnotic and alluring as Ann Desfranoux, an opera singer who dies every day (in her performances). 

What I’m surprised to say, however, is that Simon Helberg blew me away as The Accompanist, and was my favorite performance in this film. Howard Wolowitz, what? Helberg deserves better than for me to just refer to and hold him to the standard of The Big Bang Theory, but his character in Annette calls for a vulnerable and dynamic performance (especially while conducting music in one of my favorite shots/scenes in the film — I already mentioned it earlier). Helberg surrenders himself to the art in that moment of the film, and I think that’s one of the film’s theses to a T: how do we open ourselves or lose ourselves in our art & creating, what is the intersection of love & artistry, and how does all of this affect the other aspects of our lives. We all crave control over the narratives of our lives, but at times, when you lose control and just create… it could be beautiful. Or destructive.

In contrast, it kind of blew my mind that Baby Annette was a freakin’ puppet. I had no idea going in. But while Carax said at the Q&A that he just struggled to find “an actress between zero and five,” I thought that Baby Annette being a puppet supports my idea of this film being about control. While Baby Annette has a talent, she is… literally a puppet. When she performs, she’s more like a monkey (which is a toy that she plays with a lot, ironically). And then of course the final scene with Baby Annette… I won’t say what happens. Speaking of control, I felt that Adam Driver’s Henry felt very Lenny Bruce-like, and Lenny’s loss-of-control is tragic in and of itself, and there certainly are tragic elements at play in this film that I will not spoil here.

These are just some of my interpretations of this film, as I’m just a mere twelve hours removed from initially watching. Me and my friends were just left to our devices to think of what the intent could’ve been, because Carax wasn’t giving away any secrets at the Q&A (which I respect immensely). Annette is so crazy & surreal at times, and it is so evocative of every emotion, even through its absurdity, which sometimes you just can’t help but laugh at. This was such an awesome experience and while I can’t say this movie would be for everyone, I sincerely hope you give the film a chance, because this is one of those movies that remind me of the transformative power of cinema and its limitless possibilities.

“We've fashioned a world, a world built just for you
A tale of songs and fury with no taboo
We'll sing and die for you, yes, in minor keys
And if you want us to kill too we may agree
So may we start? (May we start, may we, may we now start?)”

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