Monday, 23 August 2010
Je t'aime: the filmic lives of Gainsbourg and Birkin
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) presents Je t'aime: the filmic lives of Gainsbourg and Birkin this October, a cinema program devoted to one of France's most provocative and cherished artistic figures, Serge Gainsbourg, his muse and lover, actress Jane Birkin and their daughter, actress and musician Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg
ACMI Film Programmer Kristy Matheson curated this season of rarely seen films spanning the varied and intersecting careers of all three heroes. "Effortless style icons in their own right, the Birkin-Gainsbourg family continue to fascinate and delight lovers of pop culture," she said. "Spanning music, fashion and performance, we've curated the season to delight cinema-goers, with everything from classic European cinema to delicious curios and taboo-smashing cultural touchstones."
The season weaves together thirteen feature films, from Gainsbourg's movie debut Come Dance with Me to his fateful starring role opposite Birkin in Slogan, and their infamous collaboration for Je t'aime... moi non plus. Birkin's own filmography is explored via her work with seminal French director Agnès Varda, who unites all three on screen. Linking in Charlotte's career is the contentious father-daughter collaboration Charlotte Forever, her own husband-wife collaboration via My Wife is an Actress, thorough to her latest award-winning performance in Antichrist. Offering context to the season is the new documentary premiering in Australia at ACMI, Gainsbourg and His Girls, alongside the acclaimed new biopic Gainsbourg.
Twenty years after his death comes the documentary Gainsbourg, l'homme qui aimait les femmes (Gainsbourg and His Girls) (2010), an enlightening portrait seen through the eyes of his many muses. Throughout his life, Serge Gainsbourg (1928 - 1991) composed for some of the most captivating songstresses including Juliette Gréco, Brigitte Bardot, Francois Hardy, Anna Karina and Vanessa Paradis and of course, his partner of ten years, Birkin. Director Pascal Forneri makes use of an Aladdin's cave of music, film clips and television footage (including Gainsbourg's infamous propositioning of Whitney Huston on live TV).
The highly anticipated biopic, Gainsbourg (2010), opens in Nazi-occupied Paris and charts Serge (then Lucien Ginsburg) from childhood to art school and beyond. Cabaret performer Eric Elmosnino has been described as 'uncanny' in the title role - his physical resemblance is remarkable and the pivotal musical performances are great accomplishments - with high praise also levelled at the supporting cast, namely the late Lucy Gordon as Birkin and Laetitia Casta as Bardot. The feature directorial debut of Joann Sfar offers a departure from the standard biopic, infusing Serge's portrayal with a rendered puppet-like alter-ego La Gueule (crafted by the special effects team from Pan's Labyrinth) and using it to betray the inner dialogues fans have longed to hear.
In his film acting debut Gainsbourg starred in Voulez-vous danser avec moi? (Come Dance With Me) (1959) alongside one-time lover, Brigitte Bardot. In the first of his many 'bad-guy' film roles (attributed at the time to his 'looks'), Gainsbourg played a sleazy photographer out to blackmail a cheating husband. This entertaining romp is thought to be a vehicle to showcase Bardot's dancing talents and exquisite frame.
Pierre Grimblat's Slogan (1969) marks the beginning of the legendary Gainsbourg-Birkin love affair. Set in romantic locales Paris and Venice, Gainsbourg plays a suave yet hedonistic advertising executive who strikes up an illicit romance with a knockout beauty played by Birkin in her first French-speaking role. The pair dubbed 'couple of the year' also dueted on the theme.
The musical release that was the turning point to bringing Gainsbourg international infamy in 1969, Je t'aime... moi non plus (I Love You I Don't), accompanied by the risqué, breathy vocals of Jane Birkin (originally recorded by Bardot), became a feature film of the same name in 1975. Gainsbourg's directorial debut featured Birkin and Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro in a story of a doomed triangular love affair between a truckstop waitress and a homosexual garbage truck driver. The sexually daring, taboo-laden song was condemned by the Vatican and banned in several countries, although the film was not as harshly treated and went on to bring both Gainsbourg and Birkin widespread international fame.
Several artistic collaborations later, and the birth of their only child together Charlotte in 1971, came Antonio Margheriti's La morte negli occhi del gatto (Seven Deaths In the Cat's Eye) (1973). Birkin and Gainsbourg play opposite; Birkin as innocent Catholic schoolgirl and Gainsbourg as police inspector in this B-grade horror whodunit complete with secret vampires, a killer cat, a wild ape and a sexy French teacher.
A leisurely drama with a contemporary sensibility, Claude Berri's Je vous aime (I Love You All) (1980) casts Catherine Deneuve as Alice, a beautiful career woman contemplating past loves after the breakdown of her latest affair. Gérard Depardieu and Jean-Louis Trintignant co-star as some of Alice's impressive screen suitors, as does Gainsbourg, composer of the film's score.
Jane B. Par Agnès V. (1985), regarded as 'part one' of Agnès Varda's films on Birkin, portrays the actress playing multiple parts including Jane.d'Arc, Calamity Jane and Jane Tarzan. Also featuring Serge and Charlotte, this kaleidoscopic film can be best described as a charming film-game from one of France's most enduring and fascinating directors. Part two of sorts, Le petit amour (Kung Fu Master) (1987) serves as a companion piece to Jane B. Par Agnès V. Based on a short story by Birkin, Mary Jane (Birkin) is a forty-year old divorcee living in urban Paris with her daughters Lucy and Lou (played Charlotte and another of Birkin's daughters Lou Doillon). After a chance encounter with Lucy's friend Julien (played by Varda's son Mathieu Demy) Mary is drawn into an obsessive romance, disconnected from reality. These films are scheduled as a double-feature and are on offer for the price of one session.
Daddy Nostalgie (Daddy Nostalgia) (1990) is Bertrand Tavernier's exploration of the intricacies of human relationships. Playing alongside the magnificent Dirk Bogarde (in his final screen appearance) Birkin is Caro, a writer who sojourns to the Côte d'Azur to reconnect with her ailing father, turning in an outstanding performance that harnesses her unique physicality and emotion in equal measure.
By the 1980s Gainsbourg was synonymous with controversy; "For me provocation is oxygen." His third feature as writer/director Charlotte For Ever (1986) was a hugely contentious collaboration with his young daughter Charlotte, aged only 13 at the time of filming. Gainsbourg starred as an alcoholic screenwriter clinging to his daughter after the tragic death of her mother. Derided by many on its release as having pushed taboo too far, the soundtrack also included the father-daughter duet, Lemon Incest, as Serge began to write tracks to encourage his daughter's burgeoning musical career.
Just as the Gainsbourg-Birkin relationship flourished on film, so too did that of Charlotte and director/writer/actor Yvan Attal. One of a string of films in which the couple co-starred, Ma femme est une actrice (My Wife is an Actress) (2001) marks Attal's later directorial feature debut. In this romantic comedy Attal plays ordinary man navigating Parisian life and trying to keep his insecurities in check when his actress wife lands a role with a handsome star (Terrance Stamp).
Lars von Trier's horror Antichrist (2009) further confirms Gainsbourg's bold talents leaving no doubt as to why she was awarded Best Actress at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival in her compelling examination of parental grief. The two pair up again in psychological disaster movie Melancholia, currently in production and due to debut at Cannes in 2011.
Je t'aime: the filmic lives of Gainsbourg and Birkin is a thirteen day film season opening at ACMI on Thursday 7 October until Tuesday 19 October 2010.
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