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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Original french version: Jane Birkin : « Gainsbourg disait que j’étais amorale »

by Interview by Sonia Bressler

Jane Birkin: "Gainsbourg said that I was Amoral"

translated by Henry Crapo

Translated Monday 20 March 2006, by Henry Crapo

Encounter: Recounting several important dates, the actress-singer, special guest of the festival of women’s films at Creteil (1), reveals some secret moments from her career.

Born in London on December 14, 1946, her mother an actress, Judy Campbell, her father a commandant of the Royal Navy, David Birkin. She stepped on stage at 17 and met John Barry, who hired her in 1965 for the musical comedy "Passion Flower Hotel". Soon they were married, and in 1967 Kate was born.

Huma: When twenty years old you were noticed in "Blow up", Antonioni’s scandalous film, a prize winner at the Cannes festival. In France, Pierre Grimblat is on the set for "Slogan". He is looking for an English woman to do a film opposite Serge Gainsbourg. Could you recount this legendary encounter for us?

Jane Birkin: I came for an audition in Paris. There was this arrogant man in a mauve shirt, with black eyes and the air of a sophisticated dandy, Serge Gainsbourg. He helped me through the audition by whispering me my lines. He was a timid guy, and his whole thing about being arrogant was a formidable facade constructed by the Russian jewish genius that he was. He was also troubled that I thought his name was Serge Bourguignon, that being the name of the only French recipe that I knew. We recorded "Je t’aime moi non plus" (I don’t love you neither) in 1969. Serge was on one side of the studio and I on the other, with two microphones. I think we did only two takes!

Huma: It was in 1975 that you returned as passionate lovers in "Je t’aime moi non plus", the film ("I Love You, I Don’t"). Serge Gainsbourg there explores a homosexual theme, and puritan France cries outrage. How did you live that episode?

Jane Birkin: While Serge was writing "Je t’aime moi non plus", I had already read the scenario. I found it Shakespearian, the fact that a boy falls in love with a girl who resembles a boy. The trio with Hugues Quester, a triangle of jealousy. Serge was a master. It worked, and held the road. It’s a completely different film. On its release, they stood up for us because we were rather spat upon. We were shown in the nude by Truffaut in "Le masque et la plume" (The mask and the pen). When you do a film about homosexuality, with explicit scenes, with great lighting by Willy Kurant, with Yann Le Masson behind the camera, ... it’s dynamite. They were ready to die for Serge! In the end, Serge was happier to direct the men, and to spend time in their company. We went to Uzes to turn the film. I found the film so beautiful, I couldn’t understand the critics when it was released. Its originality was to find beauty in the trash barrels, in the refuse, and in a truck driver. They were unable to understand that. I hit my fists against the walls, I felt so insulted for Serge, I was furious. Now, everyone in France and Japan finds this a cult film. For me, it’s a marvel, and I think Serge is a great director.

Huma: In 1980, you separate from Serge Gainsbourg and begin to live with Jacques Doillon. You make three films with him, notably "La Fille prodigue" ("The prodigal daughter") and "La Pirate". What do you remember of that period?

Jane Birkin: I didn’t understand what happened when he came to the door. Doillon looked like an old protestant and a red-skin. I asked him what he wanted, and he said "I’ve come for you". There, he asked me to play "himself". It was certainly some sort of psychological problem he had with his father, and he thought I was worthy to play that role. It was the first time that someone making so-called "intellectual" films thought of me. Jacques Doillon was a film director who wasn’t interested in seeing me with my clothes off. He told me " I want you to button up to the collar, I want to know what’s happening in your head, and I want you to have a nervous breakdown. So I made "La Fille prodigue", and was then regarded as a serious actress in France. Directors like Jacques Rivette, Agnès Varda and Jean-Luc Godard sought me out, while, before, I was only a popular star with nothing in the skull. The film was little seen. It was released during the presidential election. They plastered over our unhappy posters with their mugs, and I tore down posters on the Champs-Élysées. But I was in a complete break with Serge, and I felt really good in that film. It was so great for me to be seen by someone who wanted me to button my shirt up to the neck in order to be able to see what there was in my head, that I was now respected as an actress, even by people who hadn’t seen the film. It was the first time that I had critics not to unfavorable, I think.

Huma: And for "La Pirate"?

Jane Birkin: That remains an important film. It was at the Cannes festival. The film made the same sort of scandal as "Je t’aime moi non plus". This time, it was two girls. Maruschka, she played the pirate (who was really Jacques in real life, if you want to dig a bit). The press conference was really great, people were so shocked. I understand that too, because the film showed such a state of excitement, where the people were already in a dramatic situation, already in the boat, already in distress, like when your neighbors have an argument in the hallway: either you giggle or you join in. It was the first time that women came to thank me for a film, for "La Pirate". It was as if, for once, I had done something honorable, putting forward these women who wanted to live together. I had never thought of that, because Maruschka’s beauty was so attractive. It was really marvelous to find myself before her magnificent breasts. Like Serge said, I was amoral. Maybe that’s right.

Interviewed by Sonia Bressler

(1) Jane Birkin will be present tonight (11 March) at the festival of women’s films, of which l’Humanité is a partner, beginning at 21h at the Maison des Arts in Creteil.

Jane: an artist’s life.
Born in London on 14 December 1946, she appears on stage at age 17 and meets John Barry, who hires her in 1965 for the musical comedy "Passion Flower Hotel". At twenty, Jane is noticed in "Blow up", the scandalous film winning at the Cannes festival. She meets Serge Gainsbourg on the set of "Slogan", by Pierre Grimblat. Thus begins the mythical love story in Paris in 1969. They record "Je t’aime moi non plus".
In 1973 "Di Doo Dah", their first solo album, comes out. In the same year she plays in "Sept morts sur un ordonnance" (Seven deaths by prescription, or "Bestial Quartet", 1975 ), by Jacques Rouffio. Then "Lolita go home" comes out in 1975. In 1978, "Ex-Fan des sixties". In 1985, Jane takes to the stage for the first time, in the theatre, to play "La Fausse Suivante" (The false follower), at the theater des Amandiers in Nanterre, directed by Chéreau. "Lost Song" in 1987. Serge Gainsbourg dies in 1991. In 1996 she records "Versions Jane". In 1998, "À la legère" In 2002, a new stage performance and album, "Arabesque". In 2003, a world tour of that spectacle.

Published in l’Humanité, Saturday 11 March 2006, page 22.
Translated by Henry Crapo, Friday 17 March 2006.

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