Herny McHenry (Adam Driver) takes the stage of the theater where he plays his Show of comedy stand-up called The Ape of God. He comes out dressed in the paraphernalia of a boxer, willing not so much to make his audience laugh as to fight it, to provoke it. He is a comedian at the peak of his career and has just started a relationship with opera singer Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard).
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She is also at the height of her career: she fills auditoriums, moves the audience to tears, receives passionate praise and applause from her audience. They throw flowers on the stage for her, if they could they would throw tomatoes at him. She awakens positive feelings in those who appreciate her talent, he feeds low instincts, works on the indignation of others.
Theirs is a love story to which filmmaker Leos Carax inoculates a generous dose of discomfort and discomfort right from the start. It would be said, in fact, that Henry does not love Ann, he loves what she sees in him and wants what she has. When their daughter, Annette, is born, their lives explode into a thousand pieces.
The puppets of a self-absorbed generation
Annette, the character that gives the film its name, is a puppet. In a literal and figurative sense: Carax presents her to us, after a great and disturbing birth scene, as a wooden doll whose threads we cannot see. Although we do not see them, it does not mean that they do not exist.
In Henry’s hands, Annette becomes a shining star: her voice moves like her mother’s, if anything more. The public adores her. Being just a baby, the Internet makes her its official mascot for being cute, weird and talented. The reason is unnecessary, since the user turns over his feelings without taking into account those of the creature.
The truth is that Henry’s career is going from bad to worse: racist and sexist jokes increasingly violent those who previously praised his hurtful sense of humor. Carax focuses on the role of Adam Driver, and his progressive descent into hell, a deeply disillusioned – also conservative and elitist – speech about show business. For him, a decadent art to entertain an audience that is no longer asleep – as happened in Holy motors-, but it is incomprehensible in her empowerment: now she is so awake that she only experiences art through basic emotions, she changes her mind like a weather vane in the wind, and she boo at pleasure and without any kind of filter.
Henry turns all his frustrations, hopes, and fears onto Annette’s future. He intends to realize himself through her, also to wash his image and to redeem his crimes –which are not few–. Until he realizes that it is too late for everything.
With this film, Carax sings to the rhythm of the Sparks, who sign the entire sung script, the ‘mea culpa’ of a generation of parents who have made insurmountable mistakes. Not in vain the director dedicates the tape to his daughter. Annette He tells us about men who, rather than screw up, have plunged their children into the mud. Pending only their successes, their progress and the search for the recognition of others, they have burned everything in their path.
It even allows a hilarious theme song dedicated to #MeToo and the fear that nests in many women, who wonder if they sleep with a monster. Everything at the service of one opera buffa in which, if anything, the only thing that is missed is Denis Lavant, alter ego of Carax in most of his films. Although Adam Driver pays tribute to the French interpreter to offer a tremendously demanding performance in the physical: linked to the body, the muscle, the movement and its tensions. Only they are expressed through a giant –literally, the guy is 1.90– like Driver.
In this literality, part of the humor of the film is also based: that Annette is a puppet is no coincidence. Carax is no longer worth metaphors or half measures, he is convinced that the more explicit he is, the more he will connect with an audience whose intelligence he himself doubts. Laughing at his cynicism depends on the viewer, also falling into his provocation.
The love fou destroy everything
We said before that Carax inoculates a certain discomfort in the allegedly romantic relationship of the protagonists of Annette. Musical themes like True Love Always Find a Way are as sinister as a nightmare, while others like We Love Each Other So Much they sound more like a dirge than a romantic ballad.
The one baptized by his compatriots as love fou, that infatuation unrelated to reason and capable of destroying everything, was the germ of the director’s first film: Boy meets girl whose bleak end already expressed the manifest destiny of this kind of relationship.
The great premise of Bad blood, his second film, was that of a thriller with robbery and fatal infatuation. A young go-getter (Denis Lavant again) had to steal the antidote to a virus – glups – that was killing people who had loveless sex. In his second film Carax already boasted of a romantic nostalgia that ended up, ultimately, contaminating the entire proposal.
A provocative romanticism that would lead to operatic tragedy in Pola X –We remember that industrial rock band that welcomed and then retained the protagonist–. Loves full of violence like the one we saw in Lovers of Pont-Neuf, in which the character Denis Lavant dynamited any hint of improvement in Juliette Binoche’s character in order to keep her by his side.
Annette It is, in the opinion of the writer, the best Leos Carax film since Bad blood. Also the one that shows a clearer progression in his speech, deeply connected with the themes that make up his filmography, but without avoiding social commentary. Without being as self-absorbed as Holy motors – a fascinating movie for other reasons. Aware, at 60, that his cinema may well have romanticized toxic relationships. That asking for forgiveness was better than asking for permission, but it’s too late to ask for forgiveness.