Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 21 minutes, Director – Leos Carax
As his career spirals downwards, stand-up comedian Henry (Adam Driver) finds his marriage to rising opera star Ann (Marion Cotillard) becomes increasingly tense and distanced.
Annette takes the idea of people bursting into song at any possible moment and runs with it. The latest film from co-writer (alongside Sparks brothers Ron and Russell Mael – who also provide the songs and story) and director Leos Carax features Marion Cotillard’s Ann musically soothing herself while giving birth. Before this we witness her and Adam Driver’s Henry serenading each other while committing the act that often nine months later leads to a birth. It’s all part of the theatrical nature of the lives that the two live. The lines between their lives on and off the stage are blurred. Henry is a successful stand-up comic while his wife is a rising opera star. There’s a theatricality to many of their surroundings, things seem specifically set out, and some areas – even outside of their home – feel almost like a specifically laid-out soundstage. It adds to both the seemingly intentionally artificial nature of many of the film’s elements and the feel that this could work on the stage.
Perhaps the most obvious artificial point of the film is the wooden puppet which takes the role of the couple’s child Annette. It’s hoped the the baby girl will help relieve tensions and distance within their marriage, however it seems that this is not the case. As Henry’s career begins to rapidly decline, his reputation plummeting, things simply get worse for the pair. It’s at this point, almost half-way through the film’s 141 minute run-time, that he truly becomes the central figure of the piece. A growing battle forms between him and Simon Helberg’s, until this point underseen, musician; credited as ‘The Accompanist’. As this line of narrative grows and expands, truly taking form and becoming the main detail of the film things pick up quickly. Beforehand the relationship between Driver and Cotillard’s characters is the main drive and while it’s fine to watch it does feel as if it’s the main thing that pushes the run-time.
There’s only quite so far that the series of extended fever-dream-like scenes can go before more is needed. And it does feel as if they go on for a bit too long until things properly get going again with the details of the plot. It’s also at this point that while the stage-like nature is still present – partly thanks to the music that Sparks provides and the way in which it’s used – things appear to also open up as Driver’s character develops, or in some cases fails to. His attempts to cling onto fame and some form of life on the stage are engaging to see, it becomes increasingly evident that the women in his life are being used to progress his own fame; despite the fact that it appears the opposite is happening.
As the plot goes on and Henry becomes more and more desperate the character becomes a more interesting figure. Just how far will he go in using those around him? And indeed the events that he causes have the same effect on the viewer. It’s clear that the more the film uses its plot, and the effects of Cotillard’s character and performance which lie throughout, the more engaging it is. It plays around with the elements that it forms in the lengthy first half. Continuing them and breaking them almost at the same time, completely aware of its artificialities. Recognised in the music, the look, style and feel of the piece. While it might have a theatrical feel that could allow it to work just as well on the stage, established from the opening number, there are still plenty of cinematic elements to allow this to come to life on the screen – a much advertised dance scene in the stormy sea is a true spectacle. And in many ways acts as the hammer to truly break the glass between the stage and screen styles that the film plays with.
Aware of its intentionally artificial elements throughout, Annette truly develops when exploring the actions of its characters in the second half of its lengthy theatrical course.