Leos Carax is the director whose films have always been wilfully odd. Ron and Russell Mael (the brothers from the band Sparks) have also always been wilfully odd. Annette is a collaboration between the three and is therefore wilfully odd in spades. Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, it is a fantastical, fever-dreamish, sung-through rock opera and I bet you won’t see a more wilfully odd film this year. As regular readers will know, I am generally fond of any film that busts all known Hollywood formats. Yet while I tried with every fibre of my being to like Annette I did not entirely succeed.
The original idea came from the Mael brothers who are currently enjoying a moment, having been the subject of a recent Edgar Wright documentary. (That said, they were no more knowable by the end than they were at the outset. We didn’t even learn why that moustache.) Carax (Boy Meets Girl, Pola X, Holy Motors) is the one-time enfant terrible of French cinema who is now, at 60, the sexagénaire terrible, I guess. He came on board later and helped develop the screenplay. The film opens with the song ‘So May We Start’, which breaks the fourth wall as Carax and Ron and Russell spill from an LA recording studio on to the streets, picking up Driver and Cotillard who we see putting on their costumes and preparing for the film itself. It’s a strong and pleasurable opening but not exactly new. Didn’t Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar — now there’s a rock opera — begin in just such a way? (The coach arriving in the desert. The actors disembarking. Remember?)
The basic particulars are: Driver plays Henry McHenry, a dark, abrasive, angry stand-up comedian and provocateur known as ‘Ape of God’ who is worshipped by his audience until they revolt.