4 April 2015 | lazarillo
Give an actress a mask. . . .
This is a movie about an older woman (Jane Birkin) going through some old boxes and communing with the ghosts of her past--people who are either dead or probably not actually there, but present as "ghosts" of their somewhat younger selves. The stylistic conceit where these ghost people just show up and interact with her and sometimes each other in the present day is rather theatrical and not entirely original, but is a little more interesting than your usual cinematic "flashbacks".
Oscar Wilde once said, "Give a man a mask, and he'll tell you the truth". Since this movie was written by Birkin and obviously based very much on her own life, it's easy to write it off as an exercise in self-indulgence. However, there is somewhat of a "mask" here as a lot of the details obviously differ enough from Birkin's actual life, and the movie comes off more honest and confessional than self-indulgent. I'm sure Birkin's real-life today, for instance, is much more glamorous than this movie, a combination of Robert Altman's "Images" and the famous documentary "Grey Gardens", would suggest. The story focuses a lot on her parents ( , Geraldine Chaplin) who are much more unknown quantities than her French husbands or actress daughters. And the portrait of her birth family is clearly not completely autobiographical--her father is obviously not French and her brother Andrew Birkin, a pretty well-known British director himself, is entirely absent. John Hurt, plays the double of her first husbamd, the composer John Barry, who is turned into playwright/author in this movie. Her deceased second husband, "Max", differs quite a bit from the public persona of the late singer/songwriter Serg Gainsbourg, and there is a sweet and tender scene between him and their daughter that might actually be a lot more true to life than the image a lot of people have of Serg and Charlotte Gainsbourg, which was greatly influenced by their scandalous "Lemon Incest" duet in the 1980's. Charlotte Gainsbourg continues to be judged today as some kind of real-life sexual deviant based on her "art"--the early pop videos and her various controversial film roles over the years--so maybe it's proper that THIS "art" might reveal more of the ACTUAL truth about her and her late father's relationship?
It's kind of interesting that the middle-daughter double for Charlotte Gainsbourg is actually played by her real-life half sister and Birkin's youngest daughter, Lou Doillon. Besides being necessary since the character is a "ghost" from the past, it is also kind of another interesting artifice that the truth might be hiding behind. The youngest daughter meanwhile is played by none other than a 12-year-old Adele Exarchopolous of "Blue is the Warmest Color" fame, who may some day be more famous than the Birkins and Gainsbourgs combined. Natacha Regnier rounds out the impressive cast as the oldest daughter (and the non-famous one in real life).
This movie doesn't completely avoid pretentiousness. French dialogue often sounds pretentious when translated into English, but the English dialogue here often comes off pretty pretentious as well. This is not a huge problem though, and I still believe it's preferable these days to be pretentious and self-indulgent as opposed to crass and commercial. This is the complete opposite of the kind of popular Hollywood cinema that gives us things like "Transformers 4", but if you prefer the former over the latter, I think you'll probably like this alright.