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Cannes gets off to a wacky start: BRIAN VINER reviews Annette at the famous film festival 

Annette

Rating:

Verdict: A sparky start

The Cannes Film Festival has always been about spectacle — not that any of us ever expected, except perhaps in a Tim Burton picture, to see a woman in a yellow taffeta evening gown waiting patiently in line to fill a spittoon.

Saliva tests are demanded of festival-goers every 48 hours, which must be a bit challenging for anyone who has come for the glamour.

Face masks aren’t much fun, either, in the Riviera heat. But at least we’re here. Last year’s jamboree was cancelled altogether and the pandemic has pushed this year’s back from the traditional slot in May.

Conceived and written by Ron and Russell Mael, whose band Sparks pushed more than a few boundaries back in the 1970s, it is a thoroughly singular film, like La La Land on an acid trip

Conceived and written by Ron and Russell Mael, whose band Sparks pushed more than a few boundaries back in the 1970s, it is a thoroughly singular film, like La La Land on an acid trip

Well, Cannes definitely is a town big enough for both of them. The Sparks brothers helped to get this year’s festival off to an electrifying start

Well, Cannes definitely is a town big enough for both of them. The Sparks brothers helped to get this year’s festival off to an electrifying start

That postponement alone has made a difference. It’s summer holiday season in Cannes, yielding the strange sight of sun-worshippers still in swimwear leaving the beach at the same time as the black-tie crowd arrive, not 50 yards away, for the glitzy evening premieres.

It’s a toss-up, frankly, as to who is envious of whom. The beach brigade look tousled but happy, while those with the golden tickets look groomed but often grim; their reward for shuffling through endless security checks a stern enjoinder not to loiter for selfies on the red carpet. Unless they are actual movie folk, that is; in which case they are allowed to do anything.

For director Spike Lee, chairman of this year’s jury, that meant wearing a dazzling pink suit with matching pink specs (as if he were on his way to a fancy-dress party as an exotic hothouse flower) to Tuesday night’s opening ceremony.

It was followed by this year’s opening film, Annette. An outrageously wacky and provocative musical, in many ways it couldn’t have been a more perfect curtain-raiser for the 74th Cannes Film Festival, which through no fault of its own is so out of step with the previous 73. Maybe that was why it was selected.

Conceived and written by Ron and Russell Mael, whose band Sparks pushed more than a few boundaries back in the 1970s, it is a thoroughly singular film, like La La Land on an acid trip.

It hasn’t pleased everyone here, and won’t please everyone at home when it opens in September. But I loved its madness and chutzpah.

It stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, both absolutely terrific, as celebrated stand-up comedian Henry McHenry, whose adoring audiences know his angry, edgy, confronting routines almost as well as he does, and world-famous opera singer Ann Defrasnoux.

The film is at least conventional enough to have three distinct acts, the first of which establishes their passionate, overwhelming love for one another, with songs such as the unambiguous but gloriously tongue-in-cheek We Love Each Other So Much. So much, indeed, that Henry doesn’t stop singing even when he is in the throes of oral sex, which could just be the craziest image in a crazy film.

The middle act sees their life together changing. They get married and have a daughter, their beloved Annette, who is represented by a creepy doll that might have dropped in from a horror film. But things begin to go wrong. Henry is accused by six women of historic abuse and his career starts to stutter while Ann’s continues to fly.

In the third act, disaster strikes. This is spoiler territory so I’ll withhold most of the detail, but let’s just say that Annette is moulded into a global superstar in her own right, even while still a baby, propelled by her astonishing ability to channel her mother’s wonderful singing voice.

The director is Frenchman Leos Carax, making his English-language debut but trailing a powerful whiff of Gallic surrealism

The director is Frenchman Leos Carax, making his English-language debut but trailing a powerful whiff of Gallic surrealism

Henry manages her world tour, with the help of Ann’s former accompanist and lovestruck devotee (Simon Helberg). But his life is caving in, a facial birthmark becoming larger and more vivid as his personal troubles intensify. It is a powerhouse of a performance by Driver, such a charismatic and versatile actor.

If all this sounds weird, it’s not nearly as weird as it looks. The director is Frenchman Leos Carax, making his English-language debut but trailing a powerful whiff of Gallic surrealism.

That said, there are also clear echoes not just of La La Land but of 2019’s Marriage Story (another film in which Driver excelled) and even A Star Is Born.

Most of the credit, though, surely belongs to Ron and Russell Mael, who pop up in the most fleeting of cameos. They also happen to be the subjects of a new documentary, The Sparks Brothers, by British director Edgar Wright, which recalls their 1974 hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us.

Well, Cannes definitely is a town big enough for both of them. The Sparks brothers helped to get this year’s festival off to an electrifying start.

Annette opens in UK cinemas on September 3.

A tasty treat well worth unearthing

The Truffle Hunters (12A)

Rating:

Verdict: Utterly delicious

The Surrogate (15)

Rating:

Verdict: Sensitive and intelligent 

The Truffle Hunters is a real charmer of an Italian-language documentary about the old men in the forests of Piedmont who have spent their lives unearthing, with the help of their beloved dogs, the prized white Alba truffle.

Directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, and executive-produced by accomplished director Luca Guadagnino, the film is a cinematic love letter not so much to truffles, more to adorable codgers and their adorable hounds. Or maybe not so adorable in the case of one old boy, who looks like an Old Testament prophet and bashes out an angry treatise on an ancient typewriter, explaining why he wants to give up truffle-hunting, which he thinks has been invaded by people only in it for money, not for love.

The Truffle Hunters is a real charmer of an Italian-language documentary about the old men in the forests of Piedmont

The Truffle Hunters is a real charmer of an Italian-language documentary about the old men in the forests of Piedmont

It’s a sweet, altogether delightful film, and if you don’t fall for 88-year-old Carlo, who seeks assurance from his priest that he and his faithful mutt Titina

It’s a sweet, altogether delightful film, and if you don’t fall for 88-year-old Carlo, who seeks assurance from his priest that he and his faithful mutt Titina

He may have a point. There are folk willing to pay £3,870 a kilo — and we follow the supply chain all the way up, from scrabbling in the soil to sitting at the table.

It’s a sweet, altogether delightful film, and if you don’t fall for 88-year-old Carlo, who seeks assurance from his priest that he and his faithful mutt Titina will be able to carry on looking for truffles in the afterlife, you’re made of sterner stuff than me. 

The Surrogate is a more complex affair, to say the least, with enough issues to feed an entire year of EastEnders episodes.

As well as surrogacy and disability rights, debutant writer-director Jeremy Hersh chucks race, sexuality, careerism, abortion, eugenics, parenting and financial independence into his moral maze

As well as surrogacy and disability rights, debutant writer-director Jeremy Hersh chucks race, sexuality, careerism, abortion, eugenics, parenting and financial independence into his moral maze

At times it’s a bit of a squeeze in there, but on the whole he delivers a sensitively written, well-acted, intelligent film

At times it’s a bit of a squeeze in there, but on the whole he delivers a sensitively written, well-acted, intelligent film

Jasmine Batchelor plays Jess, who has agreed to be a surrogate mother for her gay best friends Josh (Chris Perfetti) and Aaron (Sullivan Jones). But the discovery that the baby she is carrying has Down’s syndrome throws the two men in particular into emotional turmoil.

As well as surrogacy and disability rights, debutant writer-director Jeremy Hersh chucks race, sexuality, careerism, abortion, eugenics, parenting and financial independence into his moral maze.

At times it’s a bit of a squeeze in there, but on the whole he delivers a sensitively written, well-acted, intelligent film.

Both in cinemas from today.


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