Charlotte Gainsbourg on Making the Deeply Personal Jane by Charlotte: “It’s Nerve-Wracking”

The post Charlotte Gainsbourg on Making the Deeply Personal Jane by Charlotte: “It’s Nerve-Wracking” appeared first on Consequence.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is no stranger to filmmaking, with an acting resume of nearly 40 years at this point — including a Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress in 2009’s Antichrist. But she’s moved into the director’s chair with Jane by Charlotte (also known as Jane par Charlotte).

The documentary, which debuted during last year’s Cannes Film Festival, is near and dear to Gainsbourg’s heart. In French with English subtitles, it’s what Gainsbourg calls “an open love letter” to her mother Jane Birkin, an actress and singer like Gainsbourg herself and the longtime collaborator and muse for her father, the late Serge Gainsbourg. The film – which will be available on digital platforms in time for Mother’s Day weekend — is built on intimate and sometimes difficult conversations between the two, emotionally poignant and at points quietly cathartic.

“It was tricky,” Gainsbourg tells Consequence about the project. “I wasn’t clear about it at the start. It was, like, an excuse to be close to her, to film her for the first time. Because I had made my music videos, maybe I was a little more assured that I wanted to continue [directing]. It wasn’t as if I had done nothing before.”

The impetus for Jane by Charlotte came after the December 2013 death of Gainsbourg’s older half-sister Kate Barry, a noted celebrity photographer and the daughter of Birkin and her first husband, filmmaker John Barry. Barry, who’d struggled with substance abuse and addiction, fell from her fourth-floor apartment in Paris, and Gainsbourg has always termed it an accident rather than a suicide.

Following the tragedy, Gainsbourg moved from France to New York, but felt distanced from Birkin. “I felt a need to be close to her again,” Gainsbourg says, so she began the film process in Japan during a stop on Birkin’s Le Symphonique tour, performing the songs Serge Gainsbourg wrote for her with a full orchestra. Birkin, who was with Gainsbourg from 1968-80 but never married, said yes at first but then had a change of heart.

“I don’t know how I presented it, but it was very vague,” Gainsbourg acknowledges. “Now I know that she said ‘yes’ thinking I was going to do a documentary maybe about her career or something professional… But when it was time to interview her, I really dived in. My first question was about why did we have this shyness towards one another? Why was it not the same with her with Kate and not the same with Lou [Doillon, Gainsbourg’s younger half-sister]? How can she explain that? She took it so badly, and we stopped.”

As Gainsbourg continues, “She said afterwards that she thought I was asking her to justify herself as a mother, for all the mistakes she had made. She was horrified.”

The project was revived two years ago, however, when Birkin visited Gainsbourg in New York and agreed to watch the footage her daughter had shot in Japan along with the interview.

“I didn’t dare watch it myself. I didn’t want to see something so horrific. I just put it away and didn’t want to face it,” recalls Gainsbourg, who has subsequently moved back to France. “Once [Birkin] was there she said, ‘OK, let’s watch it.’ She watched and said, in fact, ‘It’s nice.’ You could see it was awkward…but it was interesting. There was nothing bad about it. And for me, it was a great starting point. It was the first step of looking for her, looking for my mother. I had no script at the start. I had no script at the end. But I know there was a real progression from that Japan starting point to Brittany [France], where we ended.”

In addition to those locations, Gainsbourg and Birkin also paid a visit to Serge Gainsbourg’s home in Paris for some of the film’s most emotionally raw scenes. “I wanted my father to be present, but maybe more of a ghost figure,” explains Gainsbourg, who’s preparing the house to be opened as a public historical site. “I didn’t want him to overshadow her, but I wanted him to be a part of our discussions.”

charlotte by jane charlotte gainsbourg jane birkin 2 Charlotte Gainsbourg on Making the Deeply Personal Jane by Charlotte: Its Nerve Wracking
charlotte by jane charlotte gainsbourg jane birkin 2 Charlotte Gainsbourg on Making the Deeply Personal Jane by Charlotte: Its Nerve Wracking

Jane by Charlotte (Utopia)

Gainsbourg also decided she did not want to use archival materials, save for those about her late half-sister, and also sought to balance the musical selections between songs her father wrote for Birkin and Birkin’s own material.

Gainsbourg also incorporates scenes of her photographing and filming her mother as another vehicle for their conversations.

“My focus was really from the point-of-view of me as her daughter,” Gainsbourg explains. “I don’t feel that I’m a filmmaker, and I didn’t feel that way at the time. When you’re doing a documentary it’s nerve-wracking because you don’t know what you’ll get. I was organizing the settings and, of course, the subjects you want to talk about, but I was looking for little accidents, hoping it will go in a direction you’re not in control of. And thank God those moments did happen. That’s what made it so authentic, and real.”

As Jane by Charlotte rolls out, Gainsbourg has several other acting projects on the runway, including the upcoming dramas Sundown and The Almond and the Seahorse as well as the Netflix horror thriller The Pale Blue Eye. And after being immersed in film for a long stretch she’s also getting back into music with her first album since Rest in 2017.

“I started doing some music when Covid started but then put all my focus on films because we were able to shoot again, which was a real luxury,” she says. “So I was dealing with a lot of shootings and put aside the music. I’m diving back into an album that’s not finished at all. We’re maybe halfway there, but I can focus on it now and finish it, which is exciting.”

Jane by Charlotte is available on VOD now.

Charlotte Gainsbourg on Making the Deeply Personal Jane by Charlotte: “It’s Nerve-Wracking”
Gary Graff

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