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  • Jane Birkin has always been one of my favorites. An import from Britain, she has been a popular figure in France for nearly four decades now, first as the sexy/funny companion and muse of major singer-composer Serge Gainsbourg, then as a singer herself and a cinema, TV and theater actress. She also took part in many a radio and TV show, popularizing her comical English accent and grammar mistakes when speaking French. First confined to light comedy or little songs she gradually let the deeper side of her personality show through and recently turned to screen writing and directing for TV. "Boxes" is her first movie for the big screen. She wrote the script, directed and starred. Needless to say I was looking forward to seeing the result of this triple effort but I must admit I was a little let down.

    Not that "Boxes" is uninteresting. It is sincere (Jane tells about herself and does not spare herself). It is ambitious and courageous (opting for surrealism, opting out of linear narrative, mixing the living and the dead in the same scenes, filming the naked body of an old woman, tackling unpleasant intimate subjects, …is no easy way out). And although cheaply produced, "Boxes" can boast a dream cast (Geraldine Chaplin, Michel Piccoli, John Hurt, Tcheky Karyo, Natacha Régnier, Lou Doillon, Annie Girardot …).

    However, for all these assets, "Boxes" is too imperfect to be memorable.

    The first defect is that the story is much too referential to be universal. If you do not know Jane Birkin's life story to the tip of your fingers you are likely to be lost. I personally had no difficulty in identifying Anna as Jane, Max as Gainsbourg,, Camille as Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jean as Jacques Doillon etc., but I was baffled by the characters I had not been introduced to. Who are Madame Martin, Josephine and the small widower? Who do they represent? I was really confused each time they appeared so I can imagine the reaction of someone with no or insufficient information about the main characters…

    Another problem is the director's clumsy dealing with the surrealistic form adopted. I am not the kind to balk at non-linear story-telling. I love Buñuel's "El Angel exterminador" or Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" but for a surrealistic work to leave a deep impact it must fascinate. And mesmerized I was not. There is of course a series of strange-looking, cruel-sounding scenes but they are merely flatly juxtaposed. There is no tension rising, no vertigo overwhelming you.

    Last but not least, it looks as if Jane Birkin has taken herself too seriously this time. Where has her legendary self-derision gone? Of course life has been difficult for her but a touch of lightness now and then would have been welcome. By exposing her sufferings so unabashedly Birkin borders on self-indulgence.

    All in all, "Boxes" is more interesting than successful. At any rate, it is recommended only to those who know Jane Birkin and who love her.
  • I really loved this movie. Initially I was intrigued but wasn't really getting into it. Maybe it took 15 to 30 minutes before I was really... immersed (and I very much was by the way). Thinking about it, it's often that way with challenging and intellectually stimulating movies that I end up really liking and wanting to see again. They often don't win me over right away. I watched Boxes at the Cinemateque in Oslo a few hours ago, and I feel like watching it again right away, to catch all the nuances of the dialog and the acting that I didn't the first time.

    The film kind of balances between the banal and the profound, but the wonderful thing is that in the end it actually makes the banal profound by being totally genuine, and intelligent. I don't think banality survives honesty. What I'm trying to say, in a not very effortless way, is that the movie seems totally effortless in its genuine portrayal of characters, relationships and feelings. But it is in some ways theatrical too. I don't mean the performances but the way the characters themselves act in a way, and the events that transpire.

    And I don't mean "events" like in a plot-heavy movie, because there isn't much of that. There isn't even much of characters having "arcs" - changing in the course of the movie; this is more of a exploration of relationships and characters, at once poetic and grounded. If you like Truffaut or Rohmer, I think you will like Boxes.

    And unlike the other poster, I don't think you need to know Jane's life and map the characters to the real people in her life to enjoy this movie. At least I don't need to. I know very little about her life; I know she was married to Serge Gainsbourgh, and that she had three daughters with three different men, and not much else. Although of course the film is very inspired by her life, it's not meant to be totally about these people - it is ultimately a fiction and I found it to be very good as that.

    Jane said at the screening that it took her twelve years to get financing and develop this movie. I hope it doesn't take another twelve years before she gets to make the next one.
  • 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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I never been more touched by a film before. I wouldn't know if I would have enjoyed it as much if I didn't know Jane Birkin and her life. I would have enjoyed the film on a different level. As she gets closure with the relationships that she had/have in her life (her three lovers, her three daughters and her parents, mainly), we understand them better as well. Jane had a very public life, for she became famous early on, married John Barry (the film composer), had his daughter (Kate Barry, the photographer), was the companion of Serge Gainsbourg (the composer, singer and poet), had his daughter (Charlotte Gainsbourg, the actress) and finally left him for Jacques Doillon (the film director) and had his daughter as well (Lou Doillon, the actress). The love story between Jane and Serge is well known, and her love for him as well. But it's all public ideas. We're not intimate with her, we can only imagine. In "boxes", she lets us in. She tells us about her feelings, her view of what she's been through. She goes very deeply into things, she's very personal. At the end, the blur and public figure that we had of her became something else, something real. Now we see her better, as a woman who has been lost and found, then lost again, a woman who has passion, for her father, for her lovers, but mostly for her daughters. She shares with us her stories, their beginnings, meanings and ends. She tells us that, at the end, she is a mother above all, and though she has regrets, made mistakes and wish she has been a better mother, her daughters are everything to her. This film is simply beautiful. And Jane Birkin is as well.