Words by Valentine Babey
Last summer, when Annette came out, I’d read nothing about the film. I’d only heard through a friend of mine that it was nominated at the Cannes Film Festival, and that there was a lot of singing - and as it turns out, Annette is all about singing. A Capella has always made me feel like someone was rubbing a fork on a metal ramp, but I wanted to experience the world of Leos Carax.
Annette is the heartbreaking story of how a couple uses their child to save their marriage. The exploration of the most shameful human emotions is something Adam Driver, the main male role in the film, has always depicted with brilliance.
As a French girl, I was never a fan of Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver’s co-star. I found her too bourgeoise, too overrated. She is beloved by French people for Les Petits Mouchoirs (2010), in which she is the ultimate privileged straight white girl who spends days wondering about a man and drinking white wine on her own. Star of La Vie en Rose (2007), I immediately associated her with singing. In my childhood, my grandmother used to interpret old French songs in a very high-pitched voice. Her repertoire consisted of the pieces that you’ve heard a million times but could never name or credit. My mother always hated it – and her. And in the middle of all the yelling and the petty comments about the high notes, there would be my little sister and me. It was never going to be an easy film. And yet I was intrigued.
Annette is the child of Henry (Driver) and Ann (Cotillard). She witnesses the fighting, the yelling and the breaking of things. You see, Ann is an opera singer with an angelic voice, Henry is a stand-up comedian suddenly cancelled for the joke that went too far. Ann carries on with her success, Henry lets his eternal love for her and inability to second guess his mistakes drown him. Scotch and nights spent alone never mix well in an adult relationship: Ann feels lonely, Henry is helpless. Ann cheats on him with a close friend. Henry becomes violent. They fight. They have sex. Henry pushes her into the raging sea during a family trip. Ann never comes out of the water. And Annette becomes the toy that gets rattled in the middle of the marriage.
In a riveting end scene, Annette, a paper doll for most of the film, takes her human form back and visits her father in prison. By then, he’s strangled his wife’s lover. A lover who took care of baby Annette when Henry was too drunk to find a way from the couch to his bed. Annette is a young girl now, old enough to visit her dad. Stood in a corner, he knows the pain and suffering he’s brought upon her. She won’t experience it for a while. The laughs, the mockery, the judgment will come later. From others and from herself. The questions will come later. We can feel the future destruction of her world, but her innocent eyes still have unconditional love for Driver.
In that moment, I was Annette, crying for a complicated family and difficult parental relationships. But I think we could all be Henry too - realising a little too late that the irreparable mistakes we didn’t care much for caused great harm to our loved ones.
I mostly love cushy films, the ones that let you believe it’s the middle of summer when your windows are covered in ice. I’ll never watch Annette again. I simply can’t stand this amount of singing, but it’s probably one of my favourite films.