All movies ask at least something of their audiences. Most stories ask the viewer to accept the world as presented. The James Bond series needs us to believe in all-capable spies and villains with access to near-future technology. Legally Blonde asks us to believe a court case can turn on a dramatic reveal on the witness stand. Instant Family asks us to believe Mark Wahlberg would be allowed to adopt kids.
On a more basic level a movie will (usually) ask us to forget that everything has been scripted, rehearsed and staged and that the end of the story hasn’t been decided yet. We’re used to granting a number of a movie’s requests for suspension of disbelief, and the amount and nature of that leeway depends heavily on the genre and tone. The journeying duo in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle seem beholden to most of the laws of the real world, yet there’s a spirit to their movie that allows us them to ride a cheetah without the viewer feeling their faith betrayed.
Sometimes there’s a request of the audience’s understanding beyond believing a man can fly. Leos Carax’s Annette thins the barrier between the performers and the movie right out of the gate, with a musical number performed by the cast asking permission to begin the movie. So it’s not as if a wholly conventional drama is being upended by a birth scene where the baby… Look, it’s been generally available for a while and nearly every review makes mention of it so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to come out and say it: the baby is a puppet. The child of parents played by flesh-and-blood actors Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard is portrayed by a marionette.
The child continues to be played by a series of slightly haunting marionettes of increasing size as it grows into a small girl. And the strings are erased for reasons of verisimilitude one imagines, though the limbs have visible joints and the distinct movements of expert puppeteer manipulation. There’s no acknowledgement by the other actors that one among their number is less than human, and this is what captured the attention of both reviews looking to engage seriously with a Cannes entry and goofball “What Is This?” fluff pieces: the movie is making a Big Ask – that we take the movie and its themes seriously not by ignoring the artifice, but by incorporating it. Annette T. Puppetbaby must be accepted as the character for the story move forward, and is unavoidable in a discussion of the film and its thoughts on romance, celebrity, and jealously (and, from another angle, it’s not among the most distracting child performances on record).
Personally, I love the Big Ask of Annette, and all the more because its suspension of belief requirement stands out even in a film that makes frequent and surreal use of its techniques, like the rear projection waves that crash in a key emotional scene. Choosing to play along rather than roll my eyes or take it purely as metaphor is much more rewarding.
Your turn, Solutors: What are your favorite Big Asks in a movie? Do you enjoy having a movie challenge your disbelief? Where’s the furthest you’ve followed a movie’s crazy idea without getting knocked out of it completely?