Cannes: The filmmaker explained the process behind his film’s memorable sex scene and why he isn’t crazy about streaming platforms despite Amazon’s backing.
Leos Carax sat barefoot on the balcony of the Hotel Majestic in Cannes, chain-smoking as he gazed at the French Riviera from behind the sunglasses stuck to his face. “Why don’t people in musicals fuck? He wondered. “It’s not a rule, but it sounds strange. Probably because it’s an old genre.
With “Annette”, Carax rewrites many rules. By the time Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard get naked, the musical Sparks has already launched its revisionist approach to the genre. The first song, “So May We Start”, finds Carax, the group and the main characters walking the streets of Los Angeles and literally arriving at the plot of the film.
The Cannes opening night selection, which Amazon Studios releases in the United States in August, mixes the usual enigmatic narration of the “Holy Motors” filmmaker with a rock opera structure enlivened by the group’s compositions. Sparks band members Ron and Russell Mael conceived the idea years ago, but Carax revised it several times in the seven years they’ve spent extolling it.
He also contributed new lyrics to several songs. “We changed it from Broadway to the movies,” he said. “The brothers live in this Sparks bubble, which is pop fantasy. There was a lot of irony. Irony in a movie theater is a danger, I think. It tends to make everything less crucial, less real. “
So when it came to “We Love Each Other So Much”, the romantic composition that Driver’s fiery comedian and Cotillard’s famous opera singer sang early on, Carax said he wanted to make a difference. The song first takes place as the couple roam the woods, then move on to a motorbike ride and culminate in The Sack, where a fleeting glimpse of cunnilingus could be the first in movie history to take place in a song. “It was a fun process for everyone,” Carax said. “The only difficulty was for Marion to sing with her head in a very difficult position.”
Driver serves as producer on the project, although Carax initially envisioned Joaquin Phoenix for the role when Sparks came up with the idea in 2012. “I don’t like meeting actors with a script. I just wanted to see if he liked the idea, ”Carax said. “But he was too shy to meet.”
Then he saw Driver on HBO’s “Girls” and reached out. They began to develop the role together just as Driver was preparing for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which filled his schedule for years to come. “He was a nice boy back then,” Carax said. Driver’s rising fame brought new financiers to the table (the project was produced by Amazon and ARTE France, among others). “It helped and it didn’t help,” Carax said. “It helped to do it but then you have to fit it into his schedule, which was not easy.”
The French director has worked with many American actors in the past. In the 90s, after his dazzling romance “Lovers on the Bridge”, he met Sharon Stone for a project that would be produced by Martin Scorsese, but it never came to fruition. Carax grew weary of developing roles for specific artists in the years that followed. “The casting is a terrible thing,” he said. “It shouldn’t exist. Every time I imagine a movie with someone in my mind, I don’t end up doing it, because I can’t find those people or the money.
These challenges disappeared once Driver decided to become the project’s producer for the first time in his career, although Carax claims he had no idea Driver was working behind the scenes to direct the film. “I only found out he was doing this when we did the credits,” Carax said. “Obviously, it’s important to him. I know he has powers and he used them to help the movie. But we’re not talking about that.
Instead, they focused on the character, rowdy comedian Henry McHenry, who leaps onto the stage in aggressive performances that shock and disturb his audience until they revolt. There were some inspirations for the role.
“We obviously talked about Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman and this guy who got into that racist ‘Seinfeld’ rant,” Carax said, referring to Michael Richards. “I read a lot of autobiographies of stand-up comedians that were really interesting,” Carax said. “I read Richard Pryor and Steve Martin, because of the scene where he throws up before going on stage when he opens for Nina Simone, whom I love, and she tries to console him. It was a great scene.
All of this, of course, unfolds in verse. Sparks originally composed 80 songs for the project, a number that was cut in half during the writing process. “There were many versions of each song, depending on where the story was going to take place,” Carax said.
This meticulous process says a lot about the icy pace of Carax’s career. “Holy Motors” was his first feature film in 13 years, and “Annette” arrives almost a decade later. But Carax said Driver is eager to launch the filmmaker on a new project in the near future. “Adam wants to shoot next year,” Carax said. “He’s always ready. I’m not sure, but I’ll probably make another movie someday. Will it be a small movie or a big one with a star? I have no idea. It depends on several things. The money, the inspiration, the world, the casting.
And the industry is changing all the time. Carax said he believes cinema belongs to the big screen. “Annette” will reach large audiences via Amazon Prime and will also receive the biggest US theatrical release of her career. However, he admitted that he had no hope for the rise of streaming platforms. “I don’t like it,” he said. “Platforms and COVID are the same for me. They want to keep you home. Nevertheless, he was able to streamline support during production. “When you make an expensive movie, you sell your soul,” he said. “When you do, it’s not how you feel, but when you’re done …”
He fell silent and lit another smoke. “Nobody cares about theaters anymore,” he said. “They are too expensive. The platforms are easy. You can press a button and that’s it. They don’t even tell you who’s looking at it. They tell you it’s a success if it’s good for the platform. It is a paradise for them and it is hell for the filmmaker. It’s the truth.”
Yet Carax, whose love for the medium was sparked by everything from French New Wave films to Robert Bresson and Jacques Demy, saw the potential in some sort of future for the exhibition. “Cinema will always be the big screen for me,” he said. “People will need to come out again, but we can’t rely on the big companies to make it happen. “
“Annette” hits theaters in the US on August 6 and Amazon Prime on August 20.