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With: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell, Russell Mael, Ron Mael
Written by: Russell Mael, Ron Mael
Directed by: Leos Carax
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content including some nudity, and for language
Running Time: 139
Date: 08/06/2021

Annette (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Moon Songs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A weird, magical, opera-like musical of heavy, tragic proportions, this devastating movie will likely alienate those not familiar with acclaimed French director Leos Carax, or the music of Sparks.

Opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard) and comedian Henry (Adam Driver) are at the height of their success when they fall in love. They marry, and soon they have a baby girl, Annette. After a while, Henry's acerbic, controversial shows begin to backfire, and his career goes into decline. His behavior becomes more and more erratic, and he and Ann begin fighting. On a yacht trip during a storm, the couple meet with a tragedy.

At the same time, Henry discovers that baby Annette can sing, beautifully, when exposed to moonlight. So he enlists The Conductor (Simon Helberg) — Ann's former accompanist — and hits the road, sharing Annette's voice with the world. But how long can the magic spell last?

Even viewers that know Carax's five other features (which date back to 1984; he works quite slowly) won't quite be ready for Annette, his English-language debut. It shares an aspect of showmanship and facade with his last movie, the strange, beautiful Holy Motors, but moves in its own direction, going big with its withering emotions. The songs by the cult group Sparks — recently profiled in Edgar Wright's excellent documentary The Sparks Brothers — are also atypical, somewhat graceless and repetitive, and yet undeniably effective, both searing and naked. (The brothers, Ron and Russell Mael, appear in the opening number, as does director Carax.)

Carax's visual touches are often breathtaking, from the spare stages of Ann and Henry's respective shows, to the tilting, storm-torn deck of the yacht, to Annette herself, who is performed by a series of eerily beautiful marionettes. Ann is frequently seen with a half-eaten apple, perhaps some kind of symbol of Eden, and Henry sports a strange birthmark on his face.

Cotillard, who won an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, sings beautifully, but Driver is required to do most of the movie's heavy lifting, and he gives a full-blooded, ferocious performance. Annette is, in the end, a little opaque, and a little dispiriting, and it ultimately doesn't seem much deeper than a showbiz cautionary tale, but it has more than its share of entrancing cosmic beauties.

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