Monthly Archives: September 2021

  • Annette     Leos Carax (USA, Fr; 2021)

    Annette     Leos Carax (USA, Fr; 2021) Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 13 Sept 21; ticket: £10.75

    an empty vessel

    The Leos Carax’s ‘Annette’ starts on the nose with the money.   The precredits comprise a long long list of producers distributors and assorted institutions TV companies film commissions whatever who have pitched money into the project. Almost first up as ‘producer’ is ‘Adam Driver’ the star of a film that by the final frame of its 2 hours and 21 minutes has sinned as in Frank Capra’s dictum: “There are no rules in movie making only sins, and the cardinal sin is dullness.” Annette is a dull film. Sometimes when a huge number of people have their fingers in the film pie, the final delivered product is a mish mash of etiolating compromises; sometimes when a single figure, such as Adam Driver in ‘Annette’, has an overarching imput, the delivered final cut reflects back to its audience nothing more than a swollen ego.

    The film seems to take its structural form from 18th century opera: the works of Handel Mozart Purcell. Although these works were usually built on the classical unities, whereas Carax’ film shifts locations, the insistance of its sung dialogue (even in the scene where Henry eats Ann’s fanny), the rendering of many of the musical numbers as intimate duets, all suggest a baroque provenance.

    And ‘Annette’s’ narrative looks like a transposed variation of the Trilby theme. Trilby was a very popular nineteenth century novel by George du Maurier, in which a young woman suddenly gains an incredible voice after falling under the spell of an exploitative agent. In this case it’s Ann’s child who develop’s the ‘voice’, but it is the same sort of idea

    The problem with Carax’s movie is that it doesn’t work, its structural design has deep flaws . ‘Annette’ is nothing more than the sum of mismatched parts that don’t fit togather. The opening section introduces the lovers by intercutting Henry’s stand-up gig with Ann’s operatic performance as a presage to their relationship. But what Carax establishes in this parellel cut section is that Henry and Ann come from different worlds. Henry is all body: flesh and blood, he is in and of ‘the people’ intimately conjoined to his audience; Ann is spirit: an etherial being who performs and responds to but who is forever detached from her audience. In the operas of Purcell Mozart Handel, the characters are always belong to the same world (for dramatic/comedic effect they may disguise this); all inhabit an artificial world of courtly fantasy, and within this world they may be considered architypes. It is within this encompasing social setting that they come togather as types and their relational developments unfold – love, treachery, deceit, forbearance etc. This foundational premise constitutes the basis upon which the conceits of plot are built.

    But Carax, and his script writers, just throw Ann and Henry togather, taking no account and with no understanding of their provenance. The device used to bring them togather is the motorbike. Henry’s bike, functioning as a symbolic device, is caste as the transactional vehicle of their relationship. The implication of the bike is that Henry like an old fashioned knight of old, is somehow claiming Ann.    The use of the bike as a dramatic emblamatic device sets up a narrative in which Henry is rescuer, deliverer, or even abductor.

    But none of these ideas relate to anything we are shown of their actual relationship which the script resolves as a domestic situation expressed in the scenario through song, through sex and perhaps through the birth of Annette. Song whilst a strong medium for registering simple emotional expression and humour, doesn’t work well for the expression of most other cognitive states.   Ann and Henry fuse togather in song, but are always feel mismatched and belonging to different realms of experience. A state which the sex scenes, the cunilinctus and all, do little to alleviate. The failure to properly ground ‘Annette’s’ core relationship, bases the narrative thrust of the film on an empty proposition, a hollow foundation.

    The consequence of this failure is that ‘Annette’ feels bereft of meaning. It is difficult for the audience to construe or relate to the characters or to care about the play out of the story. With its core characters lacking foundational credibility, it is not just Annette who is the puppet on a string, all the characters become puppet-like and Carax’s film becomes increasingly mechanical theatre. By the time muppet Annette is discovered to have a ‘Trilby’ voice, the plot is switches to auto-pilot and is left to cook by itself until the final ‘Trilby’ moment, of Annette’s failure to sing on cue. (Admittedly there is a coda to Annette in which the script ties itself in the knots of its own contradictions trying to represent Henry as a reformed woke caring daddy.   The film falls into the pits of its own logic as it also delivers its final predictible gimmick: transforming the puppett Annette into a flesh and blood cutesy little girl).


    Like an empty vessel ‘Annette’ makes a lot of noise.   Most of the music by Sparks is dirge like, based on simplistic uninteresting chord sequences and invariably overlong and unable to sustain duration. Adam Driver thinks he can sing: so do I. But I don’t suppose an audience would want to hear my voice croaking through 2 hours 20 minutes of film sound track.   But ‘Annette’ is a dull film because neither Carax nor his script writers, not Driver have been able to understand the nature of their material and how to work with or overcome the form they have chosen to express the core ideas.

    Adrin Neatrour


  • Another Round       Thomas Vinterberg (2020; Den, Neth, Swe) 

    Another Round       Thomas Vinterberg (2020; Den, Neth, Swe)   Mads Mikkelson, Thomas bo Larson, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 14th Aug 2021; ticket £10.50

    Danish Pastry

    Vinterberg’s second feature ‘Festen’ worked as an uncompromising satire on the sacred shibboleths of family. Vinterberg’s script using the set piece of the celebratory occasion ripped into the image of the noble patriarch and the adoring family. OK so the idea is not dramatically new but the full frontal exposure of ‘the Daddy’ as a serial sexual molester of his children made for intense dramatic play given all the more edge by being wrapped in the black humour of Vinterberg’s scenario.

    ‘Another Round’ is made of gentler stuff. The satire’s softer and the scenario less focused than ‘Festen’. In this it does not belong in the company of those films that fill out the screen with a dominant monolithic obsession: La Grande Bouffe, Salo, Themroc, Empire of the Senses, Fitzcarraldo. Films that are magnificent in their unwavering moral commitment to play out their foundational logic. ‘Another Round’ instead starts from the perception of the intrinsically consumerist bourgeois nature of contemporary social relations, tinkers with the proposition of disrupting this state of affairs and signs off as a trite domestic drama, Vinterberg signalling the impossibility of escaping the moral and social relational webs endemic in Danish society today.

    The incompatibility of the values underlying contemporary living and the traditional nineteenth century ideas about life in general and sex roles in particular, is exemplified in the Danish National Anthem, which functions as a leitmotif rendered as a shared choral experience throughout the film. The Danish Anthem, which is almost as ridiculous as the embarrassing British National Anthem, is like its British cousin, a Nineteenth Century chauvinistic comforting confection which is noteworthy for its omissions. Whilst lacking the imperialist conceits of the UK anthem, the Danish version also harkens to a Warrior Culture: “The armour dressed fighters rested from the fight…” But what the Danish lyrics don’t mention is that their warrior culture was endemically founded upon an ethos of huge alcohol consumption.

    And alcohol consumption features as the core event in ‘Another Round’, the disrupting element. Vinterberg’s script points to a male identity problem in a society where Denmark is represented as a sort of sleepwalking clockwork world. Everyone has everything they need. In the interests of commerce, education and health, people get up have breakfast lunch dinner do their homework go to bed and get up again. There is no need for anything else. The protagonist Martin and his wife work different shifts so meet only in passing in the kitchen.   The reduction of life to lists and routine.   The Male, the Man Child, can become restless, then deadened. There is nothing for the warrior as represented in the National Anthem, and in Vinterberg’s scenario nothing to feed the spirit of his four teachers.

    The Vikings were a drink culture, in which drink was expressly used to excess. At the core of this warrior culture was the ritual systematic use of alcohol to come to important decisions, achieve particular states of mind, particular types of insights. Such insights might be deluded or irrational, but by their own lights they were nonetheless valued. Toasting and boasting drinking continued until no one was left on their feet. In organised rhythmic drinking, in the commitment to getting drunk, bonds of solidarity were forged and violence and death were concomitant events.   ‘Another Round’ opens with a celebration of the end of term exams involving the consumption of drink and leading to the expected outcome of overindulgence and events getting out of control.   A traditional student alcoholic fuelled experience, but unlike the Viking precedent, the students’ drinking is used to let of steam, not as a ritualised committed part of living.

    When the four male protagonists decide to take up the way of the bottle, their decision doesn’t stem from any cultural or literary imperative promoting alcohol as a means to escape from the constrictions of Middle Class Denmark; they are not inspired by a Muse, revelation an epiphany or a culture of excess . They take to drink at the suggestion of an academic psychiatrist who claims that a moderate amount of alcohol consumed daily will make them better workers more contented citizens.   Very modern Danish. They take to drink because they hope for positive effects at the level of performance. Vinterberg’s spoof is that the alcohol experiment to which they they subscribe is legitimised, like most things in their culture, by an academic expert.

    At this point Vinterberg has the possibility of developing a script with the sobering logic of the total destruction of self and others that alcohol can unleash. A logic that would have moral and social imperative of ripping apart the lives and bodies of the four teachers, but in this process perhaps revealing something deeper in the compact between individuals and society.

    Vinterberg does not take the lesser trod path of moral logic.  The alcohol experiment initially plays out fine for the protagonists. Life seems good, lived at an altered level of experiential reality. But things move into a darker register. After an extreme drinking episode the four protagonists get sober and realise that they do not have the bottle to continue with the alcohol experiment. One of the teachers dies. This is not seen as a good death in tune with the life experiment. Death, the ultimate fear of the bourgeoisie has a sobering effeect and Vinterberg’s script reverts to twee mode and like good little school boys the survivors eventually make up and return to their mechanical wives and kids.

    Whilst resting in the gentlest of satiric niche, the Vinterberg’s movie feels like has thrown a stone into still water, waited until the ripples have subsided then switched off the camera: an anti-climax.

    adrin neatrour