Annette: A Diva Is Killed, and a Star Is Born

Annette: A Diva Is Killed, and a Star Is Born
Say this for Leos Carax’s Annette: for a 2 ½ hour film it never dragged, and I never got bored. I enjoyed the beautiful imagery and fabulous music by Sparks, and although I took an aisle seat in close proximity to the restrooms, I never had a bladder emergency (which I increasingly think is a psychosomatic reaction to tiresome movies). That doesn’t make it a successful film. Like other filmmakers swept away by their concepts, narrative and drama get lost in the visionary ether. At every step of the way, the director’s brilliant touches are matched by narrative missteps. The film is billed as a musical, but it’s more of an opera, like Ken Russell’s rock opera Tommy, meaning it’s nearly all singing all the time. Annette tells the story first of the ecstatic, Wagnerian love story between Henry, a stand-up comic (played by Adam Driver) and Ann, an opera singer (Marion Cotillard). Henry is a combination of Lenny Bruce (distilling his demons into his act) and Andy Kauffman (mind-bendingly conceptual). Driver gives a terrific performance, seemingly ripping out pieces of his own psyche and churning them in the character. He’s obsessed with “killing” the audience, and admits that it’s to “disarm” them — kill them before they kill you. Adam Driver © Public Domain One problem with Henry’s characterization is that the audience seems part of his act. We lose the sense of Henry as a disturbed character because everyone else is acting batty, like a built-in Rocky Horror Picture Show sing-along. We never see him interacting with his entourage or other comics. We never get a hint of his past. Ms. Cotillard’s character is even more vague. She’s supposed to be an opera singer, but we always see her alone on stage, singing the same aria. Just as Henry “kills” night after night, Ann “dies”, like an archetypal Camille figure. While Ms. Cotillard makes for a ravishing diva, we don’t see her in the context of her regular life, or know anything about her. Ann is French (and played by a French star), but she hardly utters a word in French. Curiously, her Frenchness never figures in the movie. Yet, on one level, Annette is an encounter of American neurotic will with European aesthetics. This isn’t surprising as Carax himself is half-American (his mother is the film critic Joan Dupont). Georges Bataille and other writers of a romantic inclination like to say that love between two people shuts out the rest of the world, and creates its own ecstatic universe. We’d have more of a sense of this if Carax had shown us the two protagonists meeting, connecting, and then launching into a transformative space. It’s why the proverbial romance formula is “Boy Meets Girl” (the director ought to know — that was the title of his first feature). Perhaps he feels that he’s been there, done that.

Lead photo credit : A still of Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver in Annette © youtube trailer

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.