Review by Luke Bradley
From minute one, thanks to an electrically-meta opening musical number (‘So May We Start?’) Annette (Leos Carax, 2021) has you hooked. Whether or not you’re along for the ride becomes clear quickly, but it’s nonetheless a testament to the film. Every sequence, every song is charged with a wildly unique blend of emotion, passion, and zaniness. It’s rare to be able to say that a film is unlike any you’ve ever seen before; it’s even rarer for that to be a positive note.
The brainchild of the Mael Brothers – members of the legendary pop group, Sparks – Annette is the love story of Ann (Marion Cotillard) and Henry (Adam Driver). Both are on their own personal journeys and career trajectories as they welcome their child, the eponymous Annette. As with every musical, virtually every word uttered throughout the film is sung, and – considering the two-plus hour runtime – you’d think that you would feel the length. That’s perhaps this film’s greatest achievement: not once during this film did I feel its runtime. The film doesn’t give you a chance, and I mean that in the best possible way. Every aspect of this film is wacky, hilarious, and shocking all at the same time, and I was along for every minute of the ride.
Driver and Cotillard are both exceptionally good, rising to the challenge of brilliantly daft screenplay with mesmerising results. Their relationship serves as the heart and soul of the film, and every mad twist and turn they take is conveyed thrillingly. The film’s editing is equally as erratic, yet once again I was completely in love with it. Director Carax demonstrates an awe-inspiring harmony with Sparks’ writing. Annette exemplifies the definition of a ‘winning formula’, and one that definitely just shouldn’t work. If you’re familiar with Sparks (I wasn’t until I watched Edgar Wright’s fantastic The Sparks Brothers documentary, also in cinemas now), then you’ll know their style of music: energetic, snappy, and unapologetically eccentric. One wouldn’t think they’d be an appropriate pair to write the music for a satire filled with operatic love songs, but it just works.
This is undoubtedly a polarising film – fiercely mixed reactions emerged from its premiere at Cannes in July (where Carax won Best Director). Not everyone reading this review will like the film – in fact, I’d wager some of you will hate it. It really is love or hate. It asks huge leaps from the viewer, and spends no time holding your hand as it tears through its bonkers narrative at breakneck pace. But I wouldn’t have the film any other way.
You haven’t seen a film like it, and you probably never will again – that’s an intimidating notion. If you don’t take to its style and story right out the gate, then you’re in for a rough time. But if you go in ready for a wild ride – and this film is so, so wild – then you’ll have a blast. If, like me, you’re playing the original soundtrack on repeat afterwards, then the film has undoubtedly done its job.