“Annette,” the film written and scored by brothers Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks that won Leos Carax the best director at the Cannes Film festival, is unorthodox, so it may be fitting that it got its Los Angeles premiere at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Aug. 18.
The titular character of the film, a baby girl born to singer Ann (Marion Cotillard) and comedian Henry (Adam Driver), is embodied by a lifelike, uncanny puppet.
“We think we found a really modern way of doing movie musicals. That’s a talent that we feel is something special,” Russell Mael told Variety at the L.A. bow. “To be able to create, in this day and age, a movie musical done in a way that’s non-traditional.”
“[Carax] has such a strong visual sense, and such an amazing imagination, that a lot of times there were things way beyond what we would have even considered possible in a film,” Ron Mael added. The brothers were glad to entrust their screenplay to someone else: “We would have to give up maybe eight years of making music in order to be a director on a film that would be of this kind of quality. So we’ll leave it to other people like Leos Carax.”
“Leos has such a meticulous and exacting vision that you are really, ultimately, just a splotch of paint,” said Simon Helberg, who plays the conductor in the film. Carax gave Helberg several weighty tasks, including difficult gestures (“I had to tell him you can’t play the piano without hands, which I think shocked him”), an intense fight scene (“There’s Adam Driver, the actor who I’ve admired for ever and ever … and there’s Adam Driver, the tall former Marine”) and even trying to sing underwater. “Thinking ‘I don’t know if this is possible’ is something I felt throughout most of the film,” Helberg said. “And I think that really does create an environment for people to be at their most creative. It is literally a sink or swim moment.”
“It was very easy,” Cotillard said about acting opposite the artificial child. “The first time I saw her, her emotion was there. Even when she was not moving her face. And all the different ages [she grows through] — I thought it was so powerful, what it tells about the movie, and the relationship this kid has with her parents who are not in a good place in their lives. They’re going to harm the person they love the most, and they’re going to manipulate her. So having this special kid was really a genius idea.”
Devyn McDowell, the 7-year-old actor who plays the human version of Annette, was well-prepared for her first-ever red carpet, drawing fistfuls of glitter from her pocket and throwing them in the air as she posed for the cameras. “I’ve never learned so much about being in the zone,” she said of what Driver taught her when they shot the film’s final ballad, “Sympathy for the Abyss.” She also told Variety about the future of her career: “I’m probably most excited [for] when I get Oscars and I get my own star [on the] Hollywood Walk of Fame.”