‘Annette’ Review: Love Hurts – The New York Times

Annette is a musical about the notorious romance between two artists; “Land of La La” and “A star is born.” It’s not for playing algorithms or anything, but if you liked those movies, you’ll probably love this one too.

Or maybe not. While “Annette” belongs, more or less, to the enduring behind-the-scenes musical genre, it aims to be something darker and stranger than another suspenseful melodrama in which ambition and love intertwine. It has modern opera in its DNA – a horrific string of violence, madness and demonic passion that evokes pre-WWII Vienna or Berlin as much as classical Hollywood. Instead of singing or dancing at the appropriate moments, the characters drain their tortured consciousness with lyrics that are never as simple as they sound.

“We love each other very much.” This is the refrain that pops into your head as you join the tragic story of Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and performance artist and operatic soprano Ann Desfranous (Marion Cotillard). Their love is the premise and central dramatic problem of the film. It’s also, in a way, a red herring. The sexual bliss and emotional adjustment that fill the first act give way to anger and alienation, but this isn’t just a love story with a sad ending. It’s more of a case study, a critique of the romantic mythology on which its appeal depends.

The collaboration between Ron and Russell Mael – better known as the long-lived, pigeonhole-defying group Sparks – and director Leos Carax opens with an opening in “Annette” key to anti-realism. The Mael brothers, who wrote the script as well as the songs, are in the recording studio. Carax and his daughter Nastya are behind the mixing board. The cast and crew take to the streets, and Driver and Cotillard slowly take on character. He wears a flowing dark wig and then a motorcycle helmet. He climbs into a black SUV. They’re Henry and Ann now. The border between artificiality and reality is clearly marked for us; it will be cloudy, permeable, and treacherous for the two of them.

Among his passionately creative features, Carax “Pole X” and “Holy Engines” It never did much for naturalism, which serves as a default setting for most filmmakers. The world of “Annette” has some familiar place-names (including Tokyo, London, and Rio, although most are set in Los Angeles), but it is literally a realm beyond, a stage design, dream logic, and hallucinatory expressionism dream. . The fact that the characters sing more than they speak – even during sex – in some ways the least strange thing about the movie, featuring a series of mechanical puppets in the lead roles.

Annette is the name of Ann and Henry’s daughter, and explaining her centrality in the narrative may be to risk a spoiler or two. The plot is not too complicated or surprising; emerges with the relentless acceleration of a nightmare. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Annette in the stroller. What follows is drunkenness and murder; shipwreck, ghosts and guilt.

But back to the beginning, in times of Henry and Ann’s mutual fascination. Although each has a thriving career, most of the attention is on Henry. It’s part charisma, part narcissism, and it’s fully consistent with his artist identity. He is the star and writer of “The Ape of God,” a one-man show that trades (with backup singers) a belligerent type of self-presentation that popular culture sometimes mistaken for honesty.

Jumping onto the stage in a hooded robe that opens to reveal her tight boxer briefs and an impressively sculpted torso, Henry addresses the audience with candid, often obnoxious confessions. Shame and bullying are alternating currents of his action, subjugated by his overexpressive, cynical self-consciousness. The audience laughs, but more than joking, Henry encourages the public to take his aggression seriously.

An internal critic or an extraordinarily attractive example of toxic masculinity? This can be a distinction without a difference. With Henry, as with some of his hypothetical real-life counterparts, it is difficult to separate art from artist because challenging such a separation is the whole point of his art.

Ann is a different kind of artist and a less persistent presence in the film. At times she seems to get lost in the shadow of her husband’s larger, louder personality. This may seem like a failure of the filmmakers’ imagination, who portrayed it as the object of Henry’s desire, jealousy, and resentment rather than a creative force per se. It has more in common with the Cotillard characters in “Public Enemies” and “Inception” than with “Rust and Bone” or “La Vie en Rose.”

This imbalance turns out to be crucial to this film’s accusation of the brutality excused in the name of genius, of its ruthless examination of men’s rights. This is more of a monster movie than a love story about a man who can’t quite grasp the reality of other people, including his own wife and child. (The “Not all men” objection is embodied by Simon Helberg, who portrays Henry once a chef who rivals Ann’s affections.) The results are deadly, and the final account is as devastating as anything I’ve seen in a recent movie. musical or not.

With some of his best roles to date being the troubled men of the theater (see also “The Girls” and “The Marriage Story”), Driver does not waste his energy in making Henry cute or exaggerating his evil. Instead, it’s completely believable not because you understand Henry’s psychological makeup, but because you don’t fully understand it. His megalomania distorts everything. It’s not bigger than life, but he thinks it is, and Driver’s performance is perfectly tuned to that contradiction.

“Annette” is mastering her own paradoxes. This is a highly cerebral, officially complex movie about unbridled emotions. A work of art driven by a skepticism about where art comes from and why we value it that way. A fantasy film that attacks some of our culture’s most beloved fantasies. Totally unreal and completely real.

Rated R for Sturm und Drang. Duration: 2 hours 19 minutes. In movie theaters. Open Amazon, August 20.

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