I have VHS dubs of all of Leos Carax’s 20th century features sans “The Lovers on the Bridge” as well as DVDs for “Tokyo!” and “Holy Motors.”
Is Leos Carax the filmmaker equivalent of author Umberto Eco, an artist that uses smoke and deception to create art that nobody understands?
While Carax has only literally made a handful of films over the last 35 years his films are unique enough to have a loyal following.
Scenes with dynamic motion abound like one in “Mauvais Sang” (English title Bad Blood, 1986) that features his then go-to actor Denis Lavant running down the sidewalk of Gallic Gotham to the strains of Bowie’s “Modern Love.” It may be the best tracking shot during the fin de siècle of cinema’s opening century.
Carax used 1960s pop recording artist Scott Walker to provide the post-modern soundtrack of his 1999 drama “Pola X,” which upon its release in 1999 was for adults only because of an obviously graphic insertion scene in what was otherwise a mainstream movie.
Carax attracts name talent from Deneuve and Binoche to Eva Mendes and for his latest “Annette” Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg.
You just know from the opening scene when Driver starts singing, and not just warbling like a regular bloke attempting a tune in the shower, but full-on operatic enunciation that “Annette” wants you to respect the experience rather than enjoy same.
Driver makes his living as a performance artist cum stand-up who performs in a bathrobe with the energy of Louis CK on a comeback tour.
SPOILER ALERT: I feel obliged to note that further discussion about “Annette” cannot take place without revealing the entire tragic arc that propels the film.
The opening scene depicts the architects of “Annette” Russell and Ron Mael also known collectively with accompanying musicians as Sparks.
The Mael’s are on a roll since earlier this year the Edgar Wright documentary on their career “The Sparks Brothers” has made them the celebrated rediscovered artists of the current era. It’s a flawless doc that appeals to movie mavens for its smooth editing and fascinating flow as well as lifelong fans of the Los Angeles bred duo.
The first shot shows the Mael Brothers along with other studio musicians performing the introduction only to finish the song by walking out of the recording studio and onto the streets. “Annette” will adhere to no specific rules of audience expectation.
Driver destroys all he comes into contact with including his wife (Cotillard) a successful diva that gives birth to the movie’s namesake – Annette. When his medium sized arena tour stalls Driver controls Cotillard’s career to the point where he disposes of her and her conductor and musical collaborator. Here underrated Simon Helberg, using his natural musical talent to play a conductor, comes to the surface as the ultimate great supporting actor. Hopefully this will be the role that severs the bond that keeps Helberg labeled a television actor (“Big Bang Theory”).
“Look at the parking lot, Larry, just look at that parking lot,” Helberg declares in the Coen Brothers’ “Simple Man.” Helberg doesn’t have the same screen time as Cotillard and Driver but he makes a grave difference in the direction of the story. Cotillard dies like Ophelia at the hands of an abusive husband, only Helberg gulps air for the last time as he begs for his life from the much taller and brutish Driver, at this point in the movie reduced to a homicidal maniac.
We haven’t even gotten to Baby Annette, which is the lovechild of Driver and Cotillard, an angelic infant who can sing before she can talk. After Cotillard’s demise and Driver’s comedy retinue goes south Baby Annette becomes the pivotal sweep of the tale Carax spins for his by this time faithful Annetteomatic audience.
Baby Annette becomes the Taylor Swift of pint-sized performers. Under the tutelage of Driver’s by this time Mesmer-sized magnetism complex Baby Annette becomes the Billie Eilish of her almost unborn generation. She sings hovering above the crowd levitated by her own talent.
Bottom line: it was me and some other guy who stayed until the end and all the others left before the second reel.