Headlines read, “Leos Carax Bring Back Baby Annette to the Croisette,” but this is only half the truth. Yes, the legendary puppet makes a comeback in C’est Pas Moi (English: It’s Not Me), his new film in Cannes’ non-competitive Premiere section. While described as a “self-portrait” (and is in fact more of an essay), it was made in response to a prompt posed by Paris’ Pompidou Centre and was supposed to play in an exhibition. The question, supposedly “where are you at, Leos Carax,” was answered with a 41-minute essay. One of the first things to appear onscreen was a concession: “I don’t know,” a seemingly humble opening for a mid-length film shown at the sold-out Debussy hall at Cannes’ Palais du Festival. But this is Leos Carax and we don’t really need his humbleness, do we? 

It’s Not Me boasts an eclectic visual style, fully embracing various ratios, formats, and stock conditions that come with the original materials used to assemble a cine-essay. The Carax works used are, of course, restored and pristine, and so are many other French films evoked by a frame or two; what is left unsaid are the levels of access such a big name has, and how little his team needs to worry about clearing copyright (unlike the mortal film essayists). This new project is a reflection on 40 years of directing––since the Cannes Critics Week premiere of Boy Meets Girl in 1984––that manages to keep a sober tone and eschew nostalgia (largely). There is also some new footage shot specifically for the purpose, the camerawork of course entrusted to Caroline Champetier (Holy Motors, Annette), as well as some personal archive bits where Carax records his young daughter on Pont Neuf.

But this is not a film you see to spot novelties. Quite the opposite: every audience member It’s Not Me will attract––and it will, having already secured French and American distribution, extremely rare for a mid-length project––would come to take refuge in the familiar (yet bonkers) worlds of his corpus. Yes, you will see Carax and Monsieur Merde (Denis Lavant), both sporting hair and goatee in deep red, strolling through Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery. Politics will be discussed. The Holocaust. Civilian attacks. Shakily recorded footage of a building being bombed––Gaza? We don’t know. All ground this film in the stark reality of our present, saving it from self-indulgence. While Carax’s cinema has never been overtly political, it has addressed politics in one way or another. It’s Not Me affirms it.

A big part of Carax’s project, though, resembles a supercut of the “director tributes” that now occupy a fashionable spot during awards ceremonies, splicing together scenes from one’s oeuvre to some rhythmic tune, but there is one instance where C’est Pas Moi (and Carax himself) offers a unique perspective on his own form. “I have never used a point-of-view shot in my films…” the subtitles read, and a short digression on the stake of POV shots ensues. Then, a scene from Mauvais Sang appears and the director has to admit he has, indeed, resorted to POV, eyeline match and all. This small bit gave me, an avid champion of video essays as a form of self-interrogation, what I needed to see. Perhaps not to the level of questioning and engagement with cinema’s ontology Kogonada would typically go for, but still: Carax allows his audience to see a process––assertive statement to hesitation to defeat. The true vulnerability of the essayistic form lies in showing attempts and failures, not only successes. 

Cinephiles would see the free-form editing and self-reflection embedded in the (very loose) narrative and think “Godard!” Then Godard will make an appearance through a voice recording he left Carax, suggesting they meet up in Paris. For many viewers, It’s Not Me would constitute an homage, mimicking Godard’s own experimental forms of address. The truth is that, beyond the “high art” of essay films shown at Cannes Premiere or other big festivals, there exists an ecosystem that’s far more proficient and frankly soulful than Carax’s (or some of Godard’s for that matter). That said: being part of that premiere was a special occasion and an experience that will forever be glued to the work, enhancing its qualities with the charm of nostalgia (even if the film adamantly denies it). Also, what kind of person wouldn’t want to see more of Baby Annette, this time in the musical company of David Bowie’s “Modern Love”? Someone truly heartless, perhaps. Carax’s films might be many things, but are certainly not lacking for sincerity.

It’s Not Me premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival and will be released by Janus Films and Sideshow.

Grade: B-

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