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Little Night Music

"Annette" is a bold and baffling opera


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Every once and a great while, a movie comes along that is so deeply weird, so profoundly and bafflingly strange, that your friendly neighborhood film critic is left staring at the closing credits at a total loss with how to proceed. Normally, if I know I'm going to write about a movie, something connected either to the making of the film or the story or performances gives me a launching off point for the review, but after watching Leos Carax's new film, "Annette," I feel overwhelmingly underqualified to talk about it.

Adam Driver plays Henry McHenry, a toxically masculine stand-up comedian who has a very public engagement and marriage to a world famous soprano, Ann Desfranoux (played by Marion Cotillard). Not much later, they give birth to their daughter, Annette, played by a wooden marionette. I won't give much more away about the plot, but there's murder, sex and a ton of singing,because, oh yes, "Annette" is a musical where the characters sing most of their thoughts, making it the world's first dramady/romance/thriller/rock opera.

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard absolutely sing in "Annette." - PHOTO COURTESY OF AMAZON
  • Photo courtesy of Amazon
  • Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard absolutely sing in "Annette."

The story and all of the songs were written by Ron and Russell Mael of the band Sparks, who were also the subject of a documentary from Edgar Wright earlier this year called "The Sparks Brothers," proving that a band that has toiled in almost relative obscurity in the U.S. for 50 years can eventually explode if given the right chances.

I've watched "Annette" twice now and one thing I can say for sure is that the music grew on me like a bruise over both viewings. I wasn't a huge fan of the songs the first time, but after the second viewing a few of them might have become permanently lodged in my head. Adam Driver isn't much of a singer, but he infuses the songs with such powerful emotion that it's hard not to feel them in your bones once the film is over.

Leos Carax's 2012 film, "Holy Motors," is one of my favorite movies ever made, so I was extremely hyped for "Annette" and honestly wasn't let down in the slightest. Even if I was struggling to grasp a theme or some subtext, "Annette" never ceases to be a richly beautiful and tragic opera with every single frame lovingly handcrafted by Carax and his troupe. The film's idiosyncrasies combine to make "Annette" feel stunningly timeless in its love story, while searingly of the moment in its dissection of celebrity culture and toxic masculinity.

If we complain that original movies never get made anymore, then we're only letting ourselves down by missing things like "Annette" when they get released. The film is so bonkers that even as I sat with it later, I felt the movie taking on a life of its own inside my brain and replaying some of my favorite images and songs. I genuinely can't wait to watch it again and try to grasp a few more pieces of its enchanting whole and try and put it together just a little more.

Dir. Leos Carax
Grade: A-
Now Playing at Tin Pan Theater and streaming on Amazon

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