In Leos Carax’s new film, Annette, which premiered at Cannes, Adam Driver’s character, Henry, carries on crooning while he performs cunnilingus on Marion Cotillard’s Ann in a sweaty love scene, giving her what might be called “good vibrato.” The song that Driver is singing is one of many composed for Carax’s brooding pop opera by musicians Ron Mael and Russell Mael.
The film originated in a musical that the Maels’ two-man band, Sparks, was considering for a concert tour. The brothers met Carax, French cinema’s ex–enfant terrible, at Cannes in 2012. The director was there presenting his acclaimed Parisian road fantasy, Holy Motors, which features the Sparks song “How Are You Getting Home?,” and the Maels subsequently sent him their script. Carax chose to direct it as his first English-language film, and the two zanies appear throughout—most alarmingly as private-jet pilots.
As extravagant as Carax’s career-defining Les Amants du Pont Neuf (1991), Annette depicts another blighted romance, the Star Is Born–like union between self-loathing L.A. comedian-provocateur Henry and ascendant classical soprano Ann. A satirical TMZ-like news flash about the celebrity couple shows six women, prompted by #MeToo, railing against Henry’s “toxic masculinity.”
The birth of Ann and Henry’s daughter—played initially by a marionette—can’t stall Henry’s fury as his career founders and Ann’s rockets. Henry’s discovery that little Annette has a unique gift is the revelation that spurs the film to go wildly global in its second half.
Co-starring Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz in The Big Bang Theory) as Ann’s conductor and former lover, Annette is doused in old-school Hollywood magic, but it draws, too, on a real-life Hollywood tragedy—possibly two. As the film spirals inexorably toward a tense emotional showdown between the tiny wooden moppet and her hulking father, Driver displays, as he did in Marriage Story, the sensitivity and vulnerability in his intimidating persona. Cotillard has too little to do, but watch out for a scene-stealing performance by astonishing child actor Devyn McDowell. —Graham Fuller
Annette is available to watch on Amazon Prime