This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Zach Ralston’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Conceptually, this is astounding. Opens with the image of a recording studio where the music is presumably realistic, then instantly breaks the wall by shedding the fictionalized justifications for the music, turning into full-on fantastical-musical performance as we stroll outside the confines of said studio and continue to address the camera (viewer), holding our attention and heightening our awareness that this is both a movie and musical theater.
As it burrows into the narrative, it becomes a treatise on the blurred lines between truth and performance -- Henry confesses on stage to killing his wife (through tickling), and then later kills his wife. Meanwhile, Ann repeatedly dies on stage in her own opera, then actually dies. With life imitating art, it only makes sense that their entire lives are performances, staged conversations and songs sung for the benefit of the audience and each other. So then they create a baby, a child then exploited by the industry, a literal puppet to sing and dance (fly) for the audience to adore while the stage dad makes all the money. It's all pretty savage and self-loathing, but coheres intelligently as a statement about lives as performance art -- "all the world's a stage," writ through French existentialist cinema (with a dose of Christianity when the mob wonders "who will die for us?" with Ann gone and Annette retired).
There's concept, and then there's the experience of watching this film, which is truly excruciating. The music is hellish punishment for 140 minutes -- like rejects from a community theater in Modesto practicing the choral parts of "Bohemian Rhapsody" until they die or go hoarse. It's all a cappella arpeggios, shrill melodies on top of repetitive minor-key screeds. Absolutely unlistenable garbage, the antithesis of what makes music such a lovely human creation. Then there's the ghastly abomination that is Annette, a marionette creepier than anything in TITANE, and almost a one-invention argument against the entire concept of babies in cinema. Combine this freakish concoction with Adam Driver's obnoxious, arm's-length performance -- over-reliant on physical movement (because Carax rarely goes into close-up, choosing instead to frame every person within his elaborate sets and at an emotional remove) and a growing birthmark that works as a crude metaphor for Henry's corrupted soul -- and you've got an object that's near torture to endure, but which occasionally leaves enough slack on the noose to contemplate just how clever and arresting its ambitions are. If only it didn't look and sound like this.