Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Leos Carax
scr Ron Mael, Russell Mael
prd Charles Gillibert, Paul-Dominique Vacharasinthu, Adam Driver
with Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell, Angele, Natalia Lafourcade, Colin Lainchbury-Brown, Okon Ubanga-Jones, Kanji Furutachi, Nastya Golubeva Carax, Ron Mael, Russell Mael
release US 20.Aug.21,
UK 3.Sep.21
21/France 1h21

driver cotillard helberg

Is it streaming?

driver and cotillard
It's perhaps not surprising that this collision of singular artists has produced such an inventive movie musical. French director Leos Carax and Sparks' Ron and Russell Mael spin a darkly moving tale of show business highs and lows using pitch-black satire to provoke the audience with properly momentous themes. The film is an odyssey from joy to almost impossibly bleak emotion, and all of it is breathtaking original.
In Los Angeles, the unexpected romance between confrontational comic Henry (Driver) and gifted opera diva Ann (Cotillard) has caught the attention of the paparazzi. Their marriage and the birth of daughter Annette are closely followed by the gossip press, while the changes in their lives affect their careers: Ann becomes even more beloved while audiences turn on Henry. While escaping from this pressure, a holiday on their boat takes a tragic turn. And with the help of Ann's accompanist (Helberg), now it's baby Annette's turn in the limelight.
Opening with a visual overture, this initially seems like it might become a kind of edgier La La Land, but that turns out to be an understatement as the filmmakers take a downright lacerating approach to the precariousness of fame and success. And with its plaintive tone, the astonishing darkness that descends in the final act is pervasive, expertly orchestrated by Carax to repeatedly pull the rug out and confront new ideas. Meanwhile, the visuals are simply stunning, from the beautifully elaborate stage-like sets to the expressive puppets that play Annette before the gifted McDowell steps in.

Driver fully takes on an almost staggeringly difficult role, from his abrasive stand-up performances to actions that are increasingly desperate. Henry is a remarkably complex character who evolves physically and psychologically through the narrative. Alongside him, Cotillard has a soulful presence all her own, generating some sparky energy that shifts as the story does, becoming properly haunting. And Helberg's role is no simpler, a man who has big dreams and a weakness for more damaging feelings.

Carax's attention to detail is remarkable, both in the characters and the settings, including a few grand set-pieces that unfold skilfully to propel the story even further into themes relating to celebrity and ambition. And the Mael brothers' musical storytelling is unapologetic about its artistic approach, using simple hooks to express powerfully complicated thoughts. Scenes are choreographed, but no one's dancing. And while the story's intensity gets very heavy in the end, we hang in there because we simply can't let go.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 17.Aug.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall