Pop culture

"Annette": The surreal musical film with Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver

Thomas Clausen reports on "Annette" and interviews the American art-pop eccentrics Sparks for this. They provide the most surreal cinema experience of the year in the superstar-studded musical!
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Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in a surreal cinema musical. © Amode Film

As the opening film at the International Film Festival in Cannes in the summer, "Annette" already caused enthusiastic audience reactions across the board - this week the top-class screen drama about a mysterious girl is now officially opening in Austria and Germany!

Since the early 1970s, the two brothers Ron and Russell Mael aka Sparks ("When Do I Get To Sing `My Way`") have been trying their hand at the endless playground of modern pop music. With the electro-pop musical "Annette", the experimental US-duo presents an avant-garde atmospheric rush of images, for which they were able to win a small but fine superstar cast.

First and foremost Adam Driver, who has already proven his artistic versatility as a dark villain in "Star Wars", the role of the nerdy small-town cop in Jim Jarmusch's socially critical zombie comedy "The Dead Don't Die" and last but not least in Ridley Scott's glamorous biopic "House Of Gucci" about the Italian fashion empire.

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"Annette" with Oscar winner Marion Cotillard © Amode Film

At Driver's side, the French Oscar winner Marion Cotillard ("La Vie En Rose", "Midnight In Paris", "Inception") shines as a famous opera singer with whom he has a daughter; a child who is as talented as she is strange. Annette is a living wooden doll who achieves world fame as a singing baby at the side of the unnamed conductor (embodied by "The Big Bang Theory" icon Simon Helberg).

In collaboration with director Leos Carax ("Holy Motors", "The Lovers of Pont-Neuf"), the Sparks have created a surreal work of art somewhere between Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Jodorowsky with "Annette", with which the eccentric Mael brothers once again test the extreme limits of the mainstream. For this, Thomas Clausen met Moustache lover Ron Mael exclusively for L'Officiel Austria.

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In conversation with Thomas Clausen: part of the eccentric art-pop duo Sparks, Ron Mael © Anna Webber

The Sparks' music has always had a very cinematic moment. Now, with your musical debut, everything takes on a whole new dimension!

Ron Mael: "We have worked on various film projects in the past, but for a variety of reasons they could not be realized. Whether it was in the mid-1970s with Jacques Tati or in the early 1990s with Tim Burton. It's a great feeling to have now, alongside Leos Carax, finally fulfilled a real-life dream after such a long time."

What was the biggest challenge in producing "Annette"?

Ron Mael: "The original idea for this project came about over eight years ago. Actually, the songs were meant for a regular Sparks record. In 2009 our album "The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman" was released, on which we already told a coherent story once. This time the plan was to limit ourselves to just a few characters so that you could tour with a very small cast. My brother suggested we take another stab at film and send our idea to Leos Carax, whom we had met at some point in Cannes. After a bit of deliberation, he finally agreed to direct." 

Annette Trailer International
"I could see us venturing further into the vast and, in our eyes, largely unexplored field of screen musicals in the future." - Ron Mael

You are famous for your opulent pop eccentricity. Something that is now also clearly reflected in musical form.

Ron Mael: "We wanted to avoid conforming to the rules and norms usually applied to musicals. It was clear from the beginning that it was not going to be a typical Broadway version, but that it should retain this particular pop style. It's not something we can consciously control. Everything we do automatically takes on a certain Sparks aesthetic. It's always been that way."

 

Some of the scenes were shot in Germany. How did the filming there turn out?

Ron Mael: "Unfortunately, we couldn't be there ourselves when the scenes were shot. I think they were shot at the airport in Düsseldorf. So you don't see too much of Germany (laughs). Other parts were shot in Belgium. And that's despite the fact that the plot is actually set entirely in Los Angeles."

 

They have made use of a rather illustrious cast: in addition to the great film couple Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, "The Big Bang Theory" series nerd Simon Helberg, in particular, shines in the role of the orchestra conductor. An extraordinary choice!

Ron Mael: "Leos worked with us a bit on the structure of the film as well as the plot and also advised us on the casting. I think Simon was a perfect choice. It appealed to us to put him as a former TV star in contrast to typical cinema faces like Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. A tongue-in-cheek snobbery on our part. Few people know that Simon is also a fabulous musician. Leos wanted an actor who could also play the piano to show close-ups of his hands while playing. Add to that the fact that his role is quite humorless, unlike 'The Big Bang Theory', and fans experience him from a completely different side. We were only familiar with his name because of that show; we were really excited about the acting talent he has."

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Visionary! "Annette" director Leos Carax © Shutterstock

"Annette" was celebrated by fans and the media in Cannes this year. An expected success?

Ron Mael: "No success is predictable. After various failed film projects, we set our expectations pretty low from the start and were of course all the happier to win a great like Leos Carax for a collaboration. Actually, he mostly adapts his own material and only rarely makes exceptions. With the promise of Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, everything was taken to the next level. The highlight was the nomination as the opening film in Cannes. For us as huge cinema fans, of course, a very special honor. I could imagine us venturing further into the vast and, in our eyes, largely unexplored field of screen musicals in the future. There is still a lot to try out in this genre. We would also like to put out feelers in the direction of dance theatre or art installations and are open to all offers. And last but not least, we are already working on our next studio album. We never get bored ... "

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