Some collaborations were meant to be. When Russell and Ron Mael – the sibling duo behind American band Sparks – met French filmmaker Leos Carax at Cannes in 2013, they immediately clicked. Carax had used their song ‘How Are You Getting Home?’ in his 2012 odyssey Holy Motors. “He was a fan of Sparks since he was a real young guy in Paris; stealing Sparks albums because he had no money, putting them under his overcoat, walking out of the record shops,” smiles Russell. “We said, ‘That’s our kind of guy.’”
It just so happened the Maels had already written Annette. Originally intended as a concept album, it tells the story of an abrasive stand-up comic, who falls for an angelic opera singer. Intending to tour the songs, Russell was set to play the comedian, Ron would play a conductor who loves the singer from afar, and an as-yet-uncast female singer would be the love interest. But after meeting Carax, the Maels sent him the idea. Within weeks, he’d committed to direct – a film that would take eight years to make.
Carax says the brothers gave him three gifts with this fully formed musical. “There was the music,” he says. “There was the fact that I didn’t imagine it – they did – which is very liberating.” And then there was the fact it was in English, “which was my first language,” he notes (his mother is American). “I always wanted to make a film in English. I love English, obviously. I only read in English. I don’t read in French. I’ve been listening to, obviously, American-English singers.”
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