jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
Much like Carax’s previous masterpiece Holy Motors, the general focus of Annette is one that explores art through the dedication of its characters. The former is a film about Cinema – at its heart, it’s both a scathing love letter and an honorable middle finger to the form – and Annette explores art through its temptations: success, fame, fortune, and greed – the two main characters are successful at their own respective mediums; Henry’s a vulgar stand-up comedian, Ann is a Soprano. Together, they’re dynamite: cameras flash on them, reporters cling to their every word, fans scream their names – there's a really nice moment when Henry brings Ann some flowers after they both have finished their respective performances and they simply ask each other about their day and they kiss and, of course, the media loses their shit. Carax establishes the perfect “It” couple: the best part is that they genuinely seem completely invested in each other. Perhaps this is merely a trick: maybe the endgame is fame and not love.
The opening of the film – the “May We Start” sequence – is the key in understanding the main theme of the film; I'm in no way proclaiming that Carax’s themes are subtle in any way possible but the film’s chaotic narrative, something that seems to be the norm with a Carax film, can often drive a viewer from fully embracing the film’s ideas, especially when it has (and nails) so many of them in a two-hour runtime. The opening sees the director, the band Sparks, Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, and other key voices behind the film’s conception sing the song as they parade around Los Angeles. It's to remind us that the film, in all of its absurdity, is, once again, a very scathing picture that studies every side of fame and every emotion that it brings: the opening sort of acts as the beginnings of a fairy tale, the equivalent of the classic “once upon a time...” – of course, please start – but we must listen to the story in order to get to the end.
It is quite obvious that the film isn’t attempting to hide what it’s trying to say – perhaps that’s the dark joke of the film: through a usually bubbly and cheerful and emotionally resilient genre, we’re being tricked into realizing the darkness that comes with being a successful artist – and anyone who says that the film is subtle is (mostly) wrong: the film’s namesake is a puppet being controlled by her parents in some fashion –in which this obviously alludes to the ideas of parents controlling and shaping their kids into the image that THEY desire and not the lives they’re meant to live, the control parents have in profiteering on their children’s success (and therefore, dehumanizing themselves and projecting their kid in front of people as if they were a monkey begging for a banana). The film’s fairytale structure allows for the themes to hit harder: the film is already visceral with its images and in no way does the structure take a sidestep.
The absurdity of Annette is perhaps where the film is at its most charming but I think that it’s merely a distraction for what’s to come: while one parent flourishes in their career and another becomes tempted by evil, a child sits hoping someone will love her and not use her – Annette's existence is merely used as a publicity stunt and her parents, although showing her love, seem to only value her when it benefits them: one uses her as revenge, the other profits off of exploiting the child’s gift. What appears harmless is actually one of the most tragic and revealing films about life I've ever seen: how far someone is willing to go to achieve greatness, how far is someone willing to go to maintain relevance, how far someone is willing to go to become a god. The film explores life and death as an evolution but in that evolution, you’re still the same person as you were – your ugliness is just more apparent and Annette’s observance of the ugliness determines the legacy.
There's more to say but I’ll refrain from mentioning more until it becomes more of a wide release (and I have another viewing under my belt) but everyone – Driver, Cotillard, Helberg, Sparks, Carax in particular – are firing on all cylinders and in achieving that, create a work that is so viciously gentle that I don’t think my hyperbole could even begin to explain how much this is a major work. Carax is not only two-for-two but fuck, he’s probably made the best film of the year to boot. If I had any power, I'd make sure Driver won every accolade possible for this movie because he’s never been this effective – in an emotional sense, in a physical one – in any movie he’s ever been in prior to this: truly on another playing field in this one. Also, everyone I saw this with hated it except me: Cinema baby, Cinema.