Jane by Charlotte

Directed by: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Distributed by: Utopia

Written by Jeff Sparks


“Jane by Charlotte” is the directorial debut of the always outstanding actress Charlotte Gainsbourg who uses her film to document the relationship between herself and her mother, the actress/singer-songwriter, Jane Birkin. Not being a fan of documentaries, this is the only documentary I wanted to see this year due to being a supporter of Gainsbourg and a fan of Birkin. With that being said, the first thing that should be known about “Jane by Charlotte” is that this film was not made with the viewer in mind whatsoever. Gainsbourg does not have any type of setup of who she or Jane is in the film. If you have no prior knowledge of the two or their past you will be totally lost throughout this film. I see no problem with this due to the fact that like all her work, Gainsbourg did not make this film for entertainment’s sake. This particular work was made for herself on a personal level. 

Much of the film features personal conversations between the two women covering topics such as childhood, aging, art, motherhood, beauty, sentimentality, and more. In these conversations, you see a different side of not only Jane but Gainsbourg as well. The most delicate scene of the film comes when the two visit Gainsbourg’s late father’s home (who passed away in 1991), which still contains many of his items. The two often seem to be searching their minds for memories while looking through the house. Some of them come back, others seem to be just out of reach. Although some of the scenes like this were very memorable, many of the others weren’t as effective. A large chunk of the rest of the film is comprised of candid footage of the two simply chatting or doing everyday things such as a scene of Birkin playing with her granddaughter. Although these scenes may not be very memorable, they do serve a purpose as they allow you to see Birkin for who she is as a person, rather than as an artist. 

This allows Gainsbourg to use the film as a portrait of who Birkin is to her, rather than as a document of her. With that in mind, there is little archival footage of their family other than one scene towards the end where the two become emotional as they watch home videos and reflect. Following this Gainsbourg ends the film on a high note with a beautiful scene of her reading a poem-like letter to Birkin that details her fears of losing her. A few of the lines read “I am scared of your illness, of your age, of time that never stops, my words may be tactless, but should I pretend that nothing will happen? That you will be by my side forever?” This scene gracefully presents the fear many people have about losing their parents and the disorientation that one can feel after a major loss such as that. Following this, my favorite moment of the film comes when Gainsbourg ends the scene with an intimate shot of her and her mother holding each other with their hair blowing in the wind as they look up into the blue sky above.

“Jane by Charlotte” Trailer

“Jane by Charlotte” is available to rent on VOD.

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