French Film Festival UK Review: Jane By Charlotte

Mother and daughter cinematic and musical icons Jane Birkin and Charlotte Gainsbourg collaborate on new documentary Jane By Charlotte. Gainsbourg directs this unconventional documentary centred around their mother-daughter relationship, providing numerous absorbing glimpses into their bond in quietly impactful moments. Making its UK debut at the French Film Festival UK, Jane By Charlotte is set to impress fans of both performers thanks to its intimate stripped back style and unconventional approach to its subject.

Legendary singer, model and actress Jane Birkin is the subject of her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg’s directorial debut. The pair’s quiet and unforced interactions delve in Birkin’s relationships with John Barry, Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Doillon, whilst also exploring their unique bond and their similarities.

Opening with Birkin performing in Japan as part of her Birkin-Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique project, the quiet and delicate voiced star looks exactly so as she stands in front of a fifty piece orchestra, shot from the side-lines by Gainsbourg. Yet this is part of Birkin’s appeal, a calm, intelligent and somewhat insecure presence, captured with a level of intimacy and openness by her daughter. Her appeal in Japan is captured in interactions with fans, whilst Gainsbourg captures the fast-paced urban landscape soundtracked to her SebastiAn collaboration Pleasant.

Whilst these scenes of Birkin as a successful musical figure are refreshing – particularly to an English language audience who may have lost touch with Birkin’s career (despite still going strong in the world of Francophone music – her most recent album Oh ! Pardon tu dormais… released in 2020), Jane by Charlotte is at its most interesting when Gainsbourg is in front of the camera interacting with her mother, rather than quietly observing. The documentary’s first interview with the pair speaks of their shared feelings of awkwardness, shown in a gentle shyness when together – emotions which Gainsbourg shares with the next generation in her own daughter – yet their is a warmth and unforced intimacy that radiates from these two soft-spoken, charismatic presences.

The openness between the mother and daughter allows for Jane by Charlotte to explore concepts such as Birkin’s desire to shed her image of beauty in order to be taken more seriously as an artist, Birkin’s difficult first marriage with John Barry in her youth, and Birkin’s attachment of memories to inanimate objects that many would deem as clutter. Unforced filming locations – mainly Birkin’s rural countryside home in France add a further degree of intimacy and naturality to the fold, capturing a mother and daughter quietly pottering around a home filled with shared experiences and memories.

Gainsbourg refuses to attach a linear or chronological structure to Birkin’s story – instead delving between the present day life of Birkin and sporadic introduction of memories from her career or relationships with Barry or Serge Gainsbourg in particular. This structure works surprisingly well at enhancing the sense of sincerity and authenticity that trickles throughout the observational documentary which feels more like a family member gradually recounting memories and anecdotes as they are sparked, rather than a chronological sit down talking head affair.

There’s a simmering impact in Gainsbourg and Birkin exploring the near untouched apartment of Serge Gainsbourg, delving into the memories and history of this treasure trove of memorabilia and artefacts from the legendary crooner’s time. Yet these don’t feel like a glimpse into the life of a star, but instead the life of a father and family. This is where the strength of Jane by Charlotte lies, it attaches no glamour to the life of stars, instead it centres on the quiet intimacies of a mother and daughter who happen to work in the creative arts. There’s a refreshing transparency and unassuming charm in the comforting relationship between parent and child that Birkin and Gainsbourg embody here.

Gainsbourg incorporates music from both her mother and herself, a clash of the old and new – Birkin’s classic easy listening pop contrasting with the sharp electronic sounds of Gainsbourg’s music – yet a showcase for their two respective talents and two remarkably creative musical forces.

Jane by Charlotte is a frank and intimate depiction of the relationship between mother and daughter, quietly insightful and refreshingly unconventional.

Jane by Charlotte plays as part of the French Film Festival UK. Details can be found here.

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