Two films after #MeToo: ‘Annette’ or the monstrous male ego

Pointed Pablo Caldera in a Article to CTXT that “the #MeToo is also an aesthetic movement that alters the order of the sensible”, as a tool to “look at the past” and “activate or dirty it or critically examine it”, influencing – in my opinion, with reason – in that a good part of its deployment has to do with aesthetic and artistic issues, and not only with a reformulation of the moral. But I would answer, and I would do so by moving away from what Caldera was saying, that then #MeToo would not be so much an aesthetic movement – of creation -, as he says, but a critical movement, which would especially modify our reception, making judgments about artifacts already present. And with this statement, different from the first, I would no longer agree so much.

The exercise that I propose, almost as fun, is to start with two very recent films to think about the aesthetics behind #MeToo: in today’s criticism, Annette, the last movie of Leos Carax, with which he opened the 2021 Cannes Film Festival; in next week’s, A promising young woman or Promising Young Woman, debut as director of Emerald Fennell, a film that Caldera already discussed in his article. It is not my intention to think if the morality of one is more upright than that of the other, nor to condemn one of the two products to make an ode to the other, although I suppose that my preference will be more or less clear at the end of the two texts; the goal is simply establish a comparison between two ways of doing that clearly fit into a post #MeToo creation in completely different ways. Warning: I’ll ruthlessly gut the whole plot.

The abyss of the male ego

Annette confronts the viewer, between formalistic swings and dreamy sets, the hypertrophied monster of the male ego, embodied by the character of Henry McHenry that she plays Adam Driver: their delirium takes the form of a musical comedy, almost rock opera, with songs composed by the duo Sparks. What we will follow which roller coaster throughout the footage are sus frustrations, falls and gazes into the abyss: the other characters appear as means and not as ends or, in the worst case, as objects (or objects of desire); at no point is this more explicit than when it comes to Annette, the protagonist’s daughter with Ann, the character of Marion Cotillard (a successful soprano opera singer on the crest of the wave, at the height of her career). Annette is represented during the film through different puppets, which grow and change in physical characteristics; the illusion is broken, of course, and in the end she manages to be “a real girl”.

Henry cannot assume that he is the one who has to sacrifice himself, occupy the role that his wife would occupy ‘at another time, nor have he’ domesticated ‘…

All the roles or positions that Henry occupies can only be understood in a post-#MeToo taxonomy. Thus, his first position as a comedian of stand-up seemingly scathing and cynical takes us immediately back to the long chain of accusations in the United States in the world of comedy; The most explicit reference to #MeToo occurs when Ann, returning home, before feeling that something – even though she doesn’t know very well how to say what – is wrong in her relationship, she dreams – while some fires break out in California that the privileged world of the protagonists decides to ignore completely – that six women, among whom is present Angèle, They denounce Henry for abuse, mistreatment, fits of anger. Angèle’s presence is not anodyne: the Belgian singer is the author of the song Balance your what, in reference to the French movement # BalanceTonPorc… equivalent in his country to #MeToo. At the end of the film, Henry, publicly maligned, will embody the archetype of the producer who exploits the talent of his own daughter, and with it – in the production – the central figure of the abuser-exploiter.

What is the political and moral position of the film? To demand something like that would be excessive. Let’s say, rather, that all its construction starts from a few well-elaborated premises, which play with each other to offer us a journey to the abyss of male fear to be inferior to his female partner, to have to sacrifice his career and not her, to occupy a position of submission, not to genuinely become the “creative genius.” Henry’s descent into madness occurs when he becomes the caretaker and begins to languish in the face of his wife’s superior fame. And here we find one of the strengths in the representation of the film: instead of turning men into an abstract mass or group representation, it tries to explore the possible psychological mechanisms that can lead to perversion, violence, brutality or the dark. We do not speak of an evil by nature, but of the moment in which the loss of what has always been foreseen belonged to one by right can lead to the complete destruction of the subject’s mind.

Traumas, punishments, looting …

Henry cannot assume that he is the one who has to sacrifice himself, occupy the role that “at another time” his wife would occupy, nor does he assume that he has been “domesticated”, as he goes so far as to say in one of his monologues, even turning caresses or tickling into a sign capable of causing death, even if it is a dramatized death. Some critics have said of the film that it does not clarify enough the motives or psychological explanations of Henry’s character: this critic says more about the person who states it than about the film itself, since it mainly tells his story. inability to see how it is danced between the positions of the dominated and the dominant. Ann dies in the middle of the sea, at one point later depicted in the movie poster, and becomes a kind of spirit-mermaid who swears to torment Henry for the rest of his days through his daughter, Annette.

We are facing a perfect moral lesson for an aesthetic heir to #MeToo, riddled with references to the murkier aspects of Hollywood fame, almost like a nightmarish version of the singing world of La La Land

The film continues with the collapse of everything that was solid for Henry: not only does he appear unhappy, but he ends up revealing that he is not even the father of his daughter, the result of a relationship between his wife and another man, director of orchestra, before they were together, which he kills out of jealousy. Annette is best understood if you try to understand it as a systematic attack on the stability of male ambition and the will to always have something else implicit in the American dream of glory; subjected to an unbearable social construction, Henry ends up acting as an executioner with everything that surrounds him. Another cinema, without the same aesthetic presuppositions, would have explained its behavior based on a trauma or psychological commitment unrelated to the social: in this one, since these references are not made – and since the only thing we appreciate are monologues of singing characters – everything it is acceptable and integrable by a social reading of things, and it works as an analysis of the impossibility of the classic male subject to stand up after the #MeToo era.

It is a much more optimistic movie than A promising young woman, as we will see in the later text, because it postulates that there is a socially finished model, that it no longer works or will not work anymore, and that this is the consequence of a relatively present social atmosphere … although, only with his testimony, at one point in the film , be accepted — in a clearly sardonic tone— the innocence of the protagonist, who claims to police officers that he had not killed his wife.

Everything in the film is linked to or the result of Henry’s action, but true freedom and the greatest glimpses of life appear when something happens outside of her control: it is like this in Ann’s dream, when she imagines that scene so premonitory almost premonitory. typically #MeToo of the prosecution; It is like this, especially, when Annette becomes a human of flesh and blood in the middle of a vis a vis in jail. Annette’s transformation happens when ceases to be an object subject to the will of their parentsBe it the curse imposed and handled by her dead mother, be it the plundering and economic profit that her father extracts from her: the film ends with her, who explicitly chooses neither to forgive nor forget, turns her back and decides to live her own life . Punishment is not a punishment for everyone, not even revenge, but the pure exposition of the facts, of the truth, of what happened … and the autonomy that exposition can give to a previously subjected body: a perfect moral lesson for a aesthetic inherited from #MeToo, riddled with references to its context and the murkier aspects of Hollywood fame, almost like a nightmarish version of the singing world of La La Land. Although he sometimes sins excessively, it is easy to end up admiring the ambition of Carax’s film, even when he stumbles; it is incisive, cruel, contrived, hyper-built and spectacular.