Filipe Furtado’s review published on Letterboxd:
Young Carax made mad love tales about the thin line between love and narcisism. Aging Carax does the same, only what was mad is now just plain sour. The feeling remains intoxicating and Carax emphasis on emotion over reality and how characters disappear into its physical dimension is consistent, but the tentative destruction is placed above all else (the feelings itself are far from new as Pont Neuf was really a perversion of City Lights with Tramp rather having the blind grow becoming a miserable extension of him). The euphoria has become muted even if the filmmaking haven't.
Annette takes a lot of its cues from the Maels which sets a different partnership than the main ones Carax had in the past, it is organized as an album, a series of individual numbers in which character are always declaring in song, a series of monologues instead of duets that fit the tentative but failed connections throughout. It is interesting that late in the movie Holberg character reveals that the love duet was actually composed by him for Ann, because when its first introduced despite Cottilard singing some of it, Driver dominant performance does turn "We Love Each Other So Much" into something much closer to "I Love You So Much" with all the emphasis put in the performance of a man positioning himself as in love. Indeed, only in the final number between Henry and Annette does something ressembling an actual duet, with characters communicating conflicting emotions to each other, fully takes place.
Even in life, Ann remains pretty much an ethereal ghost in what is otherwise a very physical movie. Cottilard presence is like the reverse baby Annette which I assume is intentional.
It opens and closes with scenes that reinforce its place as a show as musicals often do, but I was surprised by how much it return to this time and again, not only with so much material about performance, but by just consistent making a point that there is an "us" watching it, that its an opera whose mixed emotions consistent move between the private personal expression and something that is there on display to be consumed by its audience. On this, I also suspect there's a distance between Carax and the Maels ideas of showmanship, both are enamored with artifice and spectacle as means of personal expression, but with different spins in what putting a show means.
On a separate note, there's something curious about how one receive a major artist who works as sporadically as Carax does. I assume Annette plays different if you first contact with him was Mauvais Song, Pont Neuf (my case) or Holy Motors. I mention this because media coverage which is, as usual, dominated by recency bias keep mention Holy Motors which seems to me, on first viewing, the least useful reference point for this one.
There's very little joy here outside of the opening and closing even the romantic scenes are just to consumed by the characters self-absorption to quite register that way, but baby Annette's birth is a lovely respite in the middle of all that.
Annette follows the same template of every Carax movie in making its very artificial construction getting anchored by a physical performance. Driver is closer to Guillaume Depardieu in the underseen Pola X than he is to Denis Lavant, bulky animalesque but more reserved which both cases fit the movie, It certainly wouldn't work without him. The way the passage between his brooding presence and all the outsized emotion Carax paints around him remain consistent powerful.
I can't say enough how much I love the puppet and every character reaction to it. And that's key because if you are not in the right wavelength to how Annette is absorved throughout, the final father/daughter scene can't hit as hard as it does.