Mixed reaction to Cannes opener

Red carpet glitz … standing ovation … plus praise and brickbats

by Richard Mowe

Film team from Annette face the cameras before last night’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival (from left) Adam Driver, director Leos Carax and star Marion Cotillard
Film team from Annette face the cameras before last night’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival (from left) Adam Driver, director Leos Carax and star Marion Cotillard Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Pandemic? What Pandemic! The Cannes Film Festival rocked back into life last night, starting its 74th edition with a splash of traditional glamour and glitz, star power, red carpet pirouettes, phalanxes of TV crews and photographers plus, of course, a standing ovation for Leos Carax’s opening film Annette with stars Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver in attendance. A few masks aside and some social distancing in evidence it was almost as if it Covid did not exist after last year’s cancellation and this year’s move to July.

Jodie Foster received her honorary Palme d’Or from Spanish icon Pedro Almodovar; jury president Spike Lee (pretty cool in pink) and A-listers from Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain and jury member Maggie Gyllenhaal all posed to perfection before heading in to the Palais des Festivals’ Lumière Theatre for a emotion-charged evening.

Jury President Spike Lee looking pretty cool in pink at last night’s Cannes Film Festival red carpet premiere, flanked by jury member Mélanie Laurent
Jury President Spike Lee looking pretty cool in pink at last night’s Cannes Film Festival red carpet premiere, flanked by jury member Mélanie Laurent Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
In the cold light of day after a sultry night what did the critics make of the cult French director’s first film in English whose premiere had been delayed for a year? The musical about two star-crossed artists who give birth to a baby girl (portrayed in the main by various dolls) received a mixed media response from the positive to the downbeat. The Times’s Ed Potton said that “Not all the songs are that rousing and Driver, with his strangled falsetto, isn’t anyone’s idea of a Broadway star. Yet he makes up for that with demonic charisma … Cotillard is a more compelling singer, although still not a patch on the tiny, unnerving Annette … An anti La La Land with dashes of Pinocchio, Annette is a fitting curtain-raiser to a Cannes like no other”.

The Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin awarded it five stars, suggesting that “Carax has an unparalleled knack for constructing scenes that feel like vividly remembered dreams … both Cotillard and Driver are fearlessly committed … At long last, cinema Cannes-style is back”.

Screen’s Jonathan Romney was less enthused, claiming it to be “an audacious folly that comes across as grandiose and joyless”. Even the performances fail to impress him: "As for the leads, Cotillard exudes a fragile, dreamy nervousness, and bursts of erotic rapture, in a disappointingly underdeveloped role, while Driver’s usual charm and warmth disappear in a character who’s too one-dimensionally a tortured soul …”

Juror Maggie Gyllenhaal arrives for the red carpet premiere of Annette
Juror Maggie Gyllenhaal arrives for the red carpet premiere of Annette Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Other morsels from the feedback include "In its best moments, Annette is almost as rousing as the operas about sex and death that it draws from, such as Bizet’s Carmen. However, as in those operas, the storytelling risks becoming stilted and even silly …” (The Independent) while The Hollywood Reporter was also downbeat: “Strange and discordant creation. 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”.

The BBC’s Nicholas Barber summed up the divided views: “A musical cum celebrity satire … variously embarrassing and delightful … An embarrassing folly that is almost impossible to sit through. It's also a daring, unique passion project that has you gasping with delight. I tipped back and forth between these two assessments so often during the 140 minutes of Annette that I gave myself a dose of seasickness".

The film is in French cinemas now and will be released in the UK on 3 September.

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