Amazon’s ‘Annette’ divides Cannes Film Festival critics

The first lavish, in-person film festival premiere since the start of the coronavirus pandemic left critics divided — a welcome return to the relative normalcy that marked life before COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Cannes Film Festival officially kicked off with the debut of the Leos Carax film “Annette,” starring two-time Oscar nominee Adam Driver and former Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and featuring original music from the band Sparks. Set to premiere in theaters on August 6 before a streaming release on Amazon Prime Video on August 20, the musical focuses on the star-crossed relationship between a bitter stand-up comedian (Driver) and an acclaimed soprano (Cotillard) and leans heavily on the magical realism for which Carax (whose last film was 2011’s “Holy Motors”) is known.

“Carax has directed just six movies in nearly 40 years, and ‘Annette’ is the latest proof why: Each one turns on such an intense burst of aesthetic desire that it’s a wonder he has anything left in him by the end,” Indiewire chief critic Eric Kohn wrote in his B+ review of the film. “‘Annette’ doesn’t waste a second of its 140-odd minutes (not even the curtain call of the post-credits sequence). Sure, the carnivalesque twist of the final hour is a touch heavy-handed, and it’s not the only one. Yet as the movie settles into a quiet, somber finale, life and performance collapse into a single contorted mass and ‘Annette’ becomes a metaphor for its own bumpy ride. Hovering on the brink of collapse, it’s a delicate dance between genius and fiasco.”

But fellow Indiewire critic David Ehrlich was less enamored than his colleague. “Leos Carax made a Sparks musical about how self-loathing men can’t accept love and Adam Driver sings into Marion Cotillard’s vagina (twice!) and then she gives birth to a marionette baby and I was just deeply bored by every dour, self-amused, batsh– second of it,” the senior film critic wrote on Twitter.

 

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, critic David Rooney also expressed some qualms about “Annette.” 

“Coming almost a decade after his last feature ‘Holy Motors,’ the dazzling kaleidoscopic reflection on cinema that ingeniously doubled as a Carax career retrospective, the stubbornly flat new film is a strange and discordant creation,” he wrote. “The different sensibilities involved rarely mesh together and the songs — mostly thin and unmemorable, more often talky than melodic, with obsessively repetitive lyrics — seldom ignite much feeling.”

Likewise, Variety critic Peter Debruge was split on “Annette” and wondered if its creative forces — Carax and Ron and Russell Mael, the inscrutable musicians behind Sparks — were the right blend. “Maybe it doesn’t have to make sense. Maybe we aren’t supposed to enjoy it. The message of Sparks’ movie — reinforced by their insanely prolific, 25-album career — could be seen as: Ignore the critics and just keep creating,” he wrote. “But Carax, who’s made only five features in four decades, seems far more sensitive, and it’s not at all clear that these collaborators know how to harmonize.”

Yet the film already has strong defenders — including Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri, who expected “Annette” to polarize viewers but still “stand the test of time” — and Driver, in particular, has been hailed as a standout. 

“Oscar prospects for ‘Annette’ are remote,” awards expert and Indiewire editor at large Anne Thompson wrote for Indiewire. “It’s unlikely to be widely seen, and critical reaction is already polarized: most people love it or hate it.” But, she noted most actors who see the film “will admire Driver for his daring, often naked dive off a high board, singing, performing bravura comedy routines, making love, and murdering people he loves most.”

Driver has two Oscar nominations already in his career, Best Supporting Actor at the 2019 ceremony for “BlacKkKlansman” and Best Actor at the 2020 ceremony for “Marriage Story.”

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