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[Cannes ’21] ‘Annette’ review: Conflicting forces come together in outlandish rock opera

Chaos and order.

Annette is filled with melancholic songs, powerful performances, and a bizarre story that is constantly threatening to lose audiences while it also refuses to let them go. Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) is a stand up comedian who thrives on provoking audiences. His wife Anne (Marion Cotillard) is a famous opera singer. When the two have a daughter, Henry finds a new purpose in life.

Director Leos Carax’s movie may best be described as the most delicate of the year. The film is filled with a chaotic energy that seems to be on the verge of tearing it apart at any moment. Through its offbeat storytelling and wild delivery, each moment of Annette is a tour de force of emotion and creativity. It is almost too much to take in at one time.

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Conversely, Annette has a soft side that fights to keep the film together. The whole thing has a yin and yang effect visually played out for all to see. The best example would be the sweet and genetically named “We Love Each Other So Much” being belted out by Driver while giving oral sex during a passionate scene. There are also  twists that go with the tone of the story but area also over the top.

The conflicting nature is seen most prominently in the two leads. McHenry is a comedian in the style of Andy Kaufman. More confrontational than humorous, it is hard to tell whether McHenry is a bad stand up or if no one else is in on the joke. Driver is magnificent in the role of the psychotic comic. He is a dynamo that is impossible to turn away from even when he is acting in ways the audience would rather not see.

Cotillard is much more subdued as the exasperated Anne. The character’s intentional restraint is the perfect bookend to McHenry. There is a dignity here that is never seen in even McHenry’s more stable moments. (She also makes Annette more palatable.) The downside is Driver’s performance does tend to overpower Cotillard’s presence at times.

Adding to the chaos of Annette is the soundtrack composed by Sparks. The band have made a career of exploring deeper feelings through catchy tunes. This film is no different as everything from #MeToo charges to Annette’s birth are accompanied by the band’s distinctive sound. It is as confounding as the rest of the film, which means it all makes sense in its own strange way.

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