Annette - More than just a rock opera
Directed by Leos Carax in his English-language debut, Annette is the story of stand-up comedian Henry (Adam Driver) and opera-singer Ann (Marion Cotillard), and how their lives are changed when their first child is born. Carax also contributed to the screenplay and music, both of which were written by Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks. Of course, the pop-rock duo was the focus of Edgar Wright's documentary The Sparks Brothers earlier this summer, which followed their fifty-year career and countless albums. The Sparks Brothers June release was well-timed to reintroduce Sparks before Annette opened this year's Cannes film festival, where Carax took home the award for Best Director. Carax is also seeing a reintroduction of sorts, as unorthodox musical Annette is his first film since Holy Motors, released nearly a decade ago.
Sparks first came up with the idea for a film musical several years ago, long before Carax would join the project. Annette has been a long time coming and is the product of a unique meeting of the minds; Carax and the Maels spent eight years developing the music and story for the film. While on some level, it follows a straightforward narrative of an ill-starred romance between two artists (see La La Land and A Star is Born), it also touches upon dark and destructive energy. Here, emotions that are barely manageable burst out through song. Rather than breaking into song or dance at opportune moments, the characters stream their emotion through lyrics that are often more complex than they sound.
Ever since he made his first film at the age of 24, Carax has played with the boundaries of truths and lies. The worlds of theatre and acting, which he returns to frequently in his films, can be seen as a place where there is no real distinction between these so-called opposites. In Annette, Carax continues to explore these ideas in his most bold film to date: an unabashed, rock opera melodrama. But Annette is not just a musical. It's a complex, dark and bizarre film led by two standout performances from Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Their bold, impassioned turns as a celebrity 'It' couple struggling to maintain their relationship around parenthood pairs brilliantly with Sparks' songwriting and compositions.
This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 2 September 2021.