This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Evelyn’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Probably the most important post-Me Too film, mainly because Sparks know exactly where their aims lie. Firstly (and obviously) on the abusive men in the entertainment industry which use their prestige and accolades to use and abuse women, secondly the media for regularly casting doubt upon the validity of claims and often obfuscate the truth for sensation, thirdly even the "nice guys" whose lack of conviction allow these men to continue their abuse, and most interestingly the audience (not literally us but technically us) too. The audience, as previously stated in my last review, has an interesting relationship with the in-universe characters, and us, the audience. Initially it seems they are a preliminary mouthpiece for our oncoming reactions, their disgust at Henry's second comedy act suggests this, but it's clear the further the film goes on the more obvious they seem to work for their own self interest. The audience has the most power, their court of opinion makes and breaks Henry, and it's interesting how much contempt Carax has for them (ironic hatred for others like muslims and asthmatics is fine because they are considered "normal" beliefs, but domestic abuse crosses the line because it's taboo...also important to note that at the end the audience indicts Henry for the unproveable crime of Ann's murder and the not the crime he's being locked up for, the murder of the Conductor, almost implying that maybe if Henry killed someone "unimportant" it would be acceptable because he's "funny"). Obviously, while I believe both in death of the author in part, and 'there's no ethical consumption under capitalism' in full, these fickle and one-track sentiments can often distract from the importance of the dialogues regarding mishandling of power. It's never about whether you as an individual like the accused, it's about attempting to find solace and justice for the victims, and Carax knows this too. His obsession with toxic masculinity in almost all of his protagonists matched perfectly with Sparks' thematic alignments.
The best and most notable aspect of this film is how much agency is given to all of the victims (Ann returns as a ghostly visage of revenge, never a whitewashed fantasy version, the women in the club rightfully call out Henry's bullshit facade, Annette chooses to never forgive her parents for the psychological damage and rightfully so). It shows an empathetic core that coalesces the genuine weirdness of this film into something mature amd not slyly twee. In spite of how generally inaccessible this is as a work, I find its emotional and moral compass to be an agreeable angle, one delicately crafted with care.
Finally, the most tantalizing formal aspect no one has been able to explain well is just how endowed to theatrical arts this is. Theater is one of the most unique forms of art insomuch that the viewer can simultaneously see both the artist and the stage, meaning verisimilitude is created within the mind, and Carax constantly tears down the diegesis of his own film via a grab bag of postmodern framing devices (using a doll as a primary character, constantly utilizing obvious cgi backdrops, ironically acknowledging song lyrics, and regular peeks behind the camera to show how the filmic medium itself is constructed). Even the cadences with which the characters speak and often the sparse design of the sets all create this atmosphere which somehow makes the film feel like a live show unfolding, even as Carax employs mind altering editing tricks and flurries of superimpositions.
This is the film of the decade thus far (at least tied with Da 5 Bloods so far). It certainly has the strongest beginning, ending, and identity. Carax keeps on managing to provoke and subvert, even in his old age. Bravo and good night!