Review: ‘Annette,’ starring Adam Driver, brilliantly imagines its own world

Some movies dare to set their own rules.

They prompt us to reimagine what a movie can be as they refuse to repeat what we may have seen before.

Such films often thrill, rarely disappoint and remind us of what this art form can reach when creators push beyond the familiar. Think of how the landmarks “Bonnie and Clyde” or “Midnight Cowboy” from the 1960s – or “Boyhood” or “Birdman” in recent years – declared, in every frame, they were ready to reinvent.

From its opening moments, “Annette” refuses to populate a standard movie category. While we see song and dance, this is not a typical musical. Though the story explores the intensity of romance, it is not an ordinary love story. And while the characters examine issues that may separate people, the film isn’t just a drama about relationships.

“Annette” brilliantly delivers movie moments we have never experienced.

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Film Summary: Annette

Content: High. Director Leos Carax creates a new movie form with his outrageous take on a man, a woman and the daughter they share.
Entertainment: High. Carax is meticulous in creating his own movie world where characters play by his rules.
Message: High. Amidst the well-staged chaos, Carax focuses on the personal challenges of a creative man who simply wants to be heard. And noticed.
Relevance: High. Any chance to experience a director push the boundaries can be a thrilling movie experience.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie will prompt adult conversation about who these people are, what they experience and what worlds they inhabit.

Yes, the opening scenes of music in the streets may bring back memories of “La La Land.” And early sequences of star-crossed lovers, this time a stand-up comedian and an opera star, may feel like situations in “A Star is Born.” Later, after the opposites marry and welcome a daughter, we recall the power of “Marriage Story” as well as the visual scope of “The Shape of Water” and the chills of a Hitchcock thriller.

But the power of “Annette” is not in films we remember. This movie works because director Leos Carax dares to tell a story in ways we may not have imagined. Instead of providing backstory in a conventional way, the film starts with an extended monologue that demonstrates the comedian’s power on stage. Rather than revealing details of the opera singer’s stardom, he suggests her orbit with glimpses on and off stage. While keeping his focus on these characters, as their relationship evolves, he lets bystanders burst into song as they observe. And rather than feel confined by a Hollywood need for resolution, he freely brings ambiguity into the final act.

Because Carax knows he is making a movie, the filmmaker makes sure that every sequence creates visual wonder, from how he shoots the comedian’s sequences on stage to how he imagines the film’s climactic confrontations to how he establishes his own visual language for the characters to relate to each other. And — critical to any film with musical sequences — he gives the characters permission to break into song without compromising the integrity of the people they play.

Adam Driver — so strong in recent years in “Marriage Story” and “BlacKkKlansman” — reaches another peak with a complex portrayal of a man driven by demons. Always an intense actor, Driver makes us believe in the passions this man feels and the regrets he tries to deny. While Marion Cotillard is always lovely on screen, her role is less a character than a presence. And she captivates in every frame.

Don’t see “Annette” expecting the familiar. Instead, prepare to be stunned and entertained. This magical film dares to create its own world.

“Annette” runs 2 hours and 19 minutes. The film is rated R for sexual content, including some nudity, and for language. The film is now showing in theaters and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Aug. 20.