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'Annette' Is The 1st Musical For Director Leos Carax And Pop Duo Sparks


The Cannes Film Festival returned this summer after a year off due to the pandemic. The French Riviera competition opened with big-screen rock opera "Annette," a dark fairy tale starring Adam Driver. The movie, which opens in U.S. theaters Friday, is a first musical for the band Sparks and for French filmmaker Leos Carax. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was there for the film's premiere in Cannes and met with Carax.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: As the cast of "Annette" made its way up the red carpet amidst screaming fans at Cannes, it was the culmination of a dream for brothers Ron and Russell Mael of the pop duo Sparks. They told a Cannes press conference of approaching director Leos Carax eight years ago after he used one of their songs in his film "Holy Motors." They were stunned when Carax accepted to adapt their idea and songs for "Annette" into a movie. From the very beginning, the three shared the same conviction, said Ron Mael.

RON MAEL: To avoid a lot of the - what we thought, at least, the cliches of a movie musical of the Hollywood sort of - a Broadway sort of approach where it's breaking into song and choreographed numbers and all of that. It wasn't even really discussed, I think. I think we were just on the same wavelength about the project that it would be a different take on doing a movie musical.


ADAM DRIVER: (As Henry, singing) We love each other so much.

BEARDSLEY: "Annette" is sung live, not prerecorded. And both Driver and co-star Marion Cotillard do their own singing.


ADAM DRIVER AND MARION COTILLARD: (As Henry and Ann, singing) We love each other so much.

BEARDSLEY: "Annette" is a tale of stardom, jealousy and the tragic love of a stand-up comedian and opera singer and the child they have together. For Carax, an enigmatic filmmaker known for a small collection of strange yet beautiful movies, working with Sparks gave him the chance to finally make a musical.

LEOS CARAX: I always thought I can't do it because I'm not a composer, and I have no idea how you talk to a composer, you know? If you don't like what he does, you know, you can't say, put a C there instead of a B-flat or whatever. But with Sparks' music, I felt at home from childhood. So, yeah, they sent me a few songs with a kind of storyline and we started from there eight years ago.

BEARDSLEY: Carax says he always builds his storylines with specific actors in mind. Early on, Driver became the inspiration for the movie's intense and tortured lead.


DRIVER: (As Henry, singing) Why should I make you laugh, laugh, laugh? Oh, don't make me, don't make me, don't make me - can't stand to hear you laugh, laugh, laugh.

BEARDSLEY: The filmmaker says he found out stand-up comedians can be self-destructive.

CARAX: They flirt with death on stage quite a bit, so there was that kind of dark theme that came.

BEARDSLEY: Finding the female lead was harder, says Carax. Then he discovered Cotillard, who won an Oscar for her 2010 portrayal of French singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose," a role that didn't require her to sing.

CARAX: I never imagined filming Marion, but I had seen her in one film, actually. It was a bad American film, but she was singing in it and she was very good. And she could sing.

BEARDSLEY: Cotillard told the Cannes press conference that Carax had been an inspiration for her becoming an actress. She said singing live was a huge challenge.

MARION COTILLARD: So I trained singing, moving a lot, like lying down or walking, running, bending. But what is amazing is that you can explore the little accidents of not being able to breathe or not being able to, like, sing properly. And that was actually interesting in what it created.

BEARDSLEY: Carax says there's a real freedom to making a film with music.

CARAX: Usually, you come on a set and you start with words and actions. But with music, it's like - if you go on a set and suddenly it's raining, and you didn't expect rain, so you have to do with the rain. With music, it's all the time like that. You have something there and you decide, OK, am I going with it? Am I - so you have this extra dimension that is very playful and also beautiful to watch. I mean, it's very moving because they all sing live well.


SPARKS: (Singing) One, two, three, four.

BEARDSLEY: Carax says he now can't imagine making a film without music. In Cannes, his strange and haunting "Annette" was met with a wildly divided reception, but no one, it seems, was left unmoved.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


SPARKS: (Singing) We may agree. So may we start? May we start? May we, may we now start? So may we start? May we start? May we, may we now start? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.