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.