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.
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