Annette ★★★

"But where's the stage you wonder? Is it outside, or is it within?" The opening number ("So May We Start?") doesn't answer this question explicitly, but the exhortation to hold your breath and keep your reactions to yourself effectively does, making this a film about, as it were, the stage within. As in Mauvais Sang, Carax affirms himself as a genre director in the manner of Godard—that is, a filmmaker of categories (girl/gun, blood/red, etc), presenting images and series of images that are not subsumed into particular genres, but instead reflect them. Annette is, then, not about fame or destructive creative passion, but about how these are constituted by particular (i.e. generic) sequences of images, a theme nicely augmented by Sparks' recitative lyrics. Similarly, the film's visual energy lies in its deft manipulation of iconography, the conventions of stage and theatre contrasted against the pervasive pastoral imagery (the colour green becomes a category of its own). Again like Godard, Carax has a fantastic memory of the medium, and so he is capable of making a film where images exist almost in a state of pure (categorical) potential, redistributed and reshaped with each new scene, cut, or camera movement. For a while, what is interesting is Carax's (rhetorical) exploration of the conditions established between artist and public, which are the basis of all generic criticism: cf. the laugh-track audience, the clip from The Crowd, the tickling detail (a stand-in for a physiological stock response), the puppet-Annette (particularly during her "final" performance), etc. In cross-cutting between Henry's stand-up routine and Ann's opera performances, there is an understanding that a uniformity of audience is neither possible nor desirable, and that any artistic procedure must cope accordingly—perhaps through a heightened awareness of genre that has been Godard's procedure from the very start. What disappoints is that, as Driver physically morphs into a Carax stand-in, the film also transforms into a not-particularly-daring artistic apologia for a certain type of (male) artist (cf. The House That Jack Built), and a familiar defense of the ritual "killing" of both Marion Cotillard and the audience. Still, even if nothing in it quite reaches the heights of the "Entr'acte" sequence from Holy Motors, it is a pleasure to watch something that understands that the "impurity" of cinema is one of its greatest strengths, capable of achieving an astonishing concentration from its ready importation of the effects and rhythms of other art forms.