Greetings again from the darkness. Fearless, brave, and risk-taking. These are words often used to describe the acting choices of Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has been on screen regularly since she was a teenager. And it’s no wonder, given a resume that includes such films as NYMPHOMANIAC VOL I and II (2013), MELANCHOLIA (2011), and ANTICHRIST (2009). But it’s likely she’s never been more reticent than when directing her first film … a documentary on her mother, actor and singer Jane Birkin. This is anything but another profile of a famous person. No, this is something so intimate and personal that we often feel like we are eavesdropping and invading the privacy of mother and daughter.
We open with Jane singing on stage with the symphony at Bataclan Paris. It’s a reminder of how this icon from the ‘swinging 60’s’ remains a beloved figure today. But this is no career retrospective. In fact, there is very little structure … it’s kind of a meandering journey through the time Jane and daughter Charlotte spend together. Much of it is filmed at Jane’s beautiful riverfront home in France, and it seems Charlotte’s focus is on creating some special moments that she can recall once her 74-year-old mother is no longer around. Death, illness, and aging are all discussed.
Jane Birkin may be best known as the muse to Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte’s father, and for singing his risqué song, “Je t’ame, moi non plus”. There is an initial awkwardness between mother and daughter, and that’s likely due to the uncertainty over the reason for this documentary. Charlotte, also a photographer, is frequently seen snapping pictures of her mother, even as the film crew does their thing. It’s obvious both mother and daughter are more comfortable with the camera than they are with each other, though they do warm up as things progress.
Jane discusses her propensity to hoard items, rarely discarding anything. She jokes that Charlotte will have to decide what’s to keep once she’s gone. One of the oddest sequences occurs when the two ladies visit Serge’s old home. He passed away in 1991 and it appears the home hasn’t changed much, other than to display items as if it were a museum. Even some of the canned food has exploded since it’s been more than 30 years. It’s kinda creepy and a bit surreal watching them fumble through the place, picking out items that bring back memories.
“The Birkin”, a handbag by Hermes, still sells for thousands of dollars, and Jane makes it clear she still cares about her looks … wrinkles and famously tousled hair. The insecurities and guilt are never really dealt with here, leaving it mostly a project of love and respect. Perhaps Charlotte wanted to ensure that the moments put on film were never about regret and instead about finding joy and comfort together. It seems this is much more a film for these two ladies, and less so for the rest of us. For a more interesting primer, see JANE B FOR AGNES V, a 1988 documentary on Jane Birkin by Agnes Varda. That’s not a home movie.
Opening March 18, 2022 in New York and March 25, 2022 in Los Angeles