“Jane by Charlotte”, mother and daughter in the evening

We have always known them, Jane and Charlotte, companion and muse, daughter and muse of Serge Gainsbourg. The funny little Englishwoman imported into Pompidolian France like a trophy of the swinging sixties, incarnation of the erotic year, accomplice of a song that caused a scandal as far as the Vatican (I love you … neither do I), and the shy little girl whose Paris Match photographed the first steps, Effrontée in front of Claude Miller’s camera, “little Charlotte with apples” that her daddy celebrated in Charlotte Forever and initiated into the art of scandal with Lemon Incest…

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The two women have emerged from the immense shadow of Serge the Magnificent. Actress and singer, Jane performs on stages around the world the repertoire that Gainsbourg wrote for her and plays in films by Agnes Varda, Bertrand Tavernier, Alain Resnais, her companion Jacques Doillon and even Claude Zidi. Singer and actress, Charlotte has toured with her husband, Yvan Attal, with Desplechin, Lars von Trier, Benoît Jacquot and Wim Wenders, and released five successful records. Jane and Charlotte are part of the landscape, part of the extended family. But who knows his relatives? And do they know each other, these two stars? Haunted by these questions, Charlotte, 50, goes, camera in hand, to meet Jane, 75. “The idea is to look at you like I never dared to look at you,” the daughter explains to the mother.

Old days

The sound is confused, the image cloudy, the subject uncertain. The first minutes raise fears of sentimental stagnation. But Charlotte Gainsbourg quickly found the right focal length, the appropriate tone and, beyond the notoriety of the two protagonists, Jane par Charlotte touches the universal, untangling maternal and filial ties to the point of catharsis in the coming twilight.

We follow Jane adopting a new bulldog. We accompany him to his Breton house at the edge of the water, nostalgic for the great meetings of yesteryear, confronted with the jumble of fleeing years, “all this mess of life”, confessing to be unable to throw away those little things that bear witness to the past, “even used batteries”. She talks about her insomnia, the sleeping pills she began to consume during her adolescence, with a glass of whiskey prescribed by the family doctor.

Abrupting their modesty, the two women remember the old days, illustrated by a few home movies on which Charlotte takes her first steps. They invoke the ghosts, Kate, the eldest daughter of Jane, who committed suicide in 2013, and the father of Jane, whom she loved so much that she would have liked to “stuff it and put it on a chair in the kitchen. »- which shows that half a century in the land of Descartes is not enough to dissolve the British eccentricity … And Serge, of course.

Also read:
Charlotte Gainsbourg: joyful gravity

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Stale perfume

The most astonishing sequence is the visit that Jane and Charlotte make to Serge Gainsbourg’s home, on rue Verneuil, which has remained untouched since the artist’s death in March 1991. It is the first time that Jane has returned to this mausoleum. . “It’s a bit like being in a dream,” she whispers. The lair of the deceased dandy evokes the Egyptian mastabas, the prehistoric caves, the castle of Sleeping Beauty. Tin cans exploded in the kitchen. Jane inhales a stale perfume bottle.

Great interview with Jane Birkin:
“Maybe I didn’t say thank you enough”

The mother-daughter dialogue borders on family therapy, the dead are remembered by the memories of the living: “I gave birth to three individuals who are going to die”, Jane meditates. Affected in her health, preferring not to watch old videos, she walks bravely towards the inexorable shadow. Charlotte wonders: “Why do we live without our mother?” On a dune, mother and daughters embrace to ward off “the fear of time that never stops”. They are our sisters, immensely human.


Jane par Charlotte, by and with Charlotte Gainsbourg (France, United Kingdom, Japan, 2022), with Jane Birkin, 1h30.

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