Annette is now playing in selected UK & Irish cinemas, arriving on MUBI from the 26th of November in the UK, Ireland, India, and Latin America.
2021 seems to have been a banner year for Sparks, with Edgar Wright’s deep-dive documentary into their history leading to a cultural rebirth. However, where The Sparks Brothers felt like a treat for old and new fans, Annette reflects the brothers’ resilience. In Wright’s documentary, the multiple attempts of both brothers to enter the cinematic landscape through Jacques Tati and Tim Burton found a voice, both projects reaching an unfortunate end. Their creative, experimental and narratively-rich lyrics and bold videos, needing a director who could match their intensity. Now in the hands of Leos Carax, that creative drive has found a voice in Annette.
Annette feels like a rumination on life-as-performance, as crude comedian Henry McHenry and operatic soprano Ann Defransoux embark on an unlikely romance together. The two feel intentionally polemic in character, darkness and light clashing on-screen to form a beguiling pair of performers—their romance surrounded by a violent passion, as though constantly barrelling toward an absolute end. Here, Henry (Adam Driver) lashes out against life, whereas Ann (Marion Cotillard) is happy to submit to its random beauty. Driver is perfect for the role in many ways, carrying a mysteriously dark demure—his opposite, Cotillard, the bright sun to his night. Here Carax and the Mael brother’s play with our perceptions of both characters on a cinematic and real-world level as their first-born daughter (Annette) turns their lives upside down.
READ MORE: THE SPARKS BROTHERS
Sparks are known for their experimental sound, often reinventing themselves from album to album; never content with comfort, even at the risk of alienating their fans. However, with Annette, their music takes on a Sondheim energy, so much so it is difficult to pinpoint the Sparks tone. And while the opening number is undoubtedly a banger, its melody caught in my mind ever since the screening, the remainder of the ballads feel repetitive. Here, we become trapped in an operatic rush and swell, each song melding together without a distinctive flair.
The initial Cannes reactions led us to believe that Annette would offer moments of weird and outrageous experimentation. However, while we are offered some sublime cinematography care of Caroline Champetier, for me, the overarching film did not match the initial reactions. However, let’s take a moment to return to Champetier, for it’s in her hands that Annette finds moments of brilliance. For example, a gorgeously violent storm clashing against an intentionally stage-like yacht as the film’s orchestral score sweeps around the audience. In many ways, Champetier’s cinematography feels more Sparksian than the score; her work sure to earn an Oscar nod.
The weirdest and most experimental quirk held within Annette is the nature of Annette herself. To divulge this would be a significant spoiler, but it’s clear there is a specific purpose in Annette’s portrayal. Perhaps it’s a reflection of how Annette is perceived by both Henry and Ann, or maybe Annette’s function throughout their lives is a metaphorical extension of that.
Sadly, Annette’s experimentation ends there. That’s not to say it’s not an intriguing story, but I certainly hoped for more from the Mael brothers and Sparks. And while there are undoubtedly fascinating textures in the final picture, Annette feels slow and, at times, cumbersome. Maybe a bold, creative injection of experimentation from Sparks and Carax could have reinvigorated this, but alas, nothing comes. However, I do not doubt that fans of Sparks will be happy to see one of their cinematic children finally come to life with Annette.