Sparks fly as ‘Annette’ musical rolls out of Cannes

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Cannes (France) (AFP)

“Annette”, the musical creation of enigmatic director Leos Carax and geek pop duo Sparks, opens Cannes on Tuesday.

Driver, best known for his roles on the “Girls” TV show and the Star Wars franchise, appears alongside Frenchwoman Marion Cotillard in a roller coaster production depicting the rise and fall of a celebrity couple.

It’s a film that brings together the gifted and the socially awkward as the stars sing their way through a story that began as an idea by Ron and Russell Mael, the eccentric pop duo from Los Angeles Sparks.

But as an enthusiastic crowd ascends the steps of Cannes on the opening night of the first major post-pandemic film festival, a man will walk towards the exit.

“My plan is to come in and when the lights go out I run,” Driver, who has a habit of avoiding watching his own movies, told AFP.

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He said he would try to find an empty desk and sit down to watch the screening while “playing with staplers” and making phone calls.

Describing his usual technique, he said “then I go home, and when the lights come on I get up, I pretend I’m there all the time”.

If this waterfall indicates a touch of eccentricity, Driver is in good company.

Strangeness is the specialty of French director Carax, once treated as a sadist by actor and ex-girlfriend Juliette Binoche.

Ever since he burst onto the international scene with his “Lovers on the Bridge”, moviegoers have been wondering if he’s the best French filmmaker for generations, or just an eccentric.

Adam Driver has chosen his side: “He’s one of the best directors of all time,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Mael brothers have been leaning into the eccentricity of pop since they topped the charts with “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us” in 1974.

And some 25 albums later, they still have an uncanny knack for combining musical elegance with tonal strangeness and unusual lyrics, resulting in a plethora of catchy tracks.

“Annette” was their idea, which they brought to Carax after meeting him in Cannes in 2013.

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They feared his intermittent engagement would mean the film would never see the light of day but “we kept the faith and Leos remained focused on the project,” Ron Mael told AFP.

The result is a rock opera with musical styles ranging from dancing electro to classically inspired lyrical passages.

The stars do most of their singing, which, according to Cotillard, required “a great effort of preparation in a very limited time”, adding that “the music is a strong vector of emotion”.

Neither is a trained singer, but that was not a problem, Driver said: “The vocals were secondary to our intentions.”

At night, Los Angeles is the backdrop to the action, with a vintage-style motorcycle as Carax’s accessory of choice, save for a puppet which plays a very central role in the story.

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Cotillard said the film was about “the need for recognition, how we are affected by the strong need to be watched, heard and loved.”

But Driver said Carax was silent on its meaning: “We never talked about any of the themes of the film.”

“Annette” is the first of 24 films in the running for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s first prize.

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