With the Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard film “Annette” premiering in Cannes, brothers Russell and Ron Mael, better known as Sparks, may have an early original song contender on hand with “So May We Start.”
Directed by Leos Carax, the film centers around Henry (Driver), a stand-up comedian with a fierce sense of humor, who falls in love with Ann (Cotillard), a world-renowned opera singer. At the center of the film is its music, a rock opera of sorts. Sparks not only wrote the music for the film — with lyrics by the Maels and Carax — but also the original screenplay.
“So May We Start” — as sung by Driver, Cotillard, Sparks and Simon Helberg, who plays the musical conductor — is an ensemble number that opens the film. Says singer Russell Mael, “It’s almost a preface to the movie you’re about to see. We’re talking about issues involved with getting a movie off the ground and that’s one of the lines, ‘The budget is large, but it’s not large enough.'” Mael explains the song also hints at some people may be killed in the film and what’s to come.
Mael says the music for the film had been written over nine years ago with plans to make it into an album and a live presentation, but while at Cannes pitching another project, they met Carax, who became interested in the film.
“So May We Start” remained intact and didn’t change over the years. “We always had that idea from the beginning, where we wanted the characters outside of their roles, in street clothing, and musically, it was comfortable for us to come up with,” says Mael. “Leos embraced that idea and anything that was off-kilter in presenting a movie musical in this day and age.”
From glam-rock to disco, electro to opera, the film is peppered with music from Sparks. Stylistically, it’s varied and “it’s unpredictable. It can weave in and out with songs from the pop world; other songs are orchestrated and some are ensemble songs,” and that unpredictability becomes the film’s aesthetic.
The film received a five-minute standing ovation after its premiere and has garnered potential Oscar buzz. Where it lands with voters remains to be seen, but if it rides the wave to Oscars, this will be a first for the Mael brothers, who already have a high profile this year with Edgar Wright’s “The Sparks Brothers,” a documentary that premiered at Sundance and just came out in the theaters.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Mael says of attending the premiere with an audience and hearing the buzz. Admittedly, he was nervous about the initial reaction from the 2,000 people in the audience. “It was the first time we were ever able to see it and being a part of Cannes, but it’s nerve-wracking because you don’t know what the reaction will be.” He adds, “We were happy and relieved.”
Mael notes the film is a one-of-a-kind movie with its storytelling. “There is no equivalent to it; it’s its own unique film in its own world and you haven’t seen precedence for it. Those are the kind of films we respond to.” For audience members who are hesitant about seeing a musical, Mael adds, Driver is the reason audiences need to see the film. “We think it’s one of the most unique and best performances he’s ever done. He is so strong in it. If for nothing else, go see it for an astounding performance.”
As festival president Pierre Lescure said: “Every Leos Carax film is an event. And this one delivers on its promises. ‘Annette’ is the gift that lovers of cinema, music and culture were hoping for, one that we have been yearning for during the past year.”
Amazon Studios will release “Annette” in theaters on August 6 and on Amazon Prime Video August 20.