As they bond and converse, their conversations take on a closed aspect, never inviting us in to their increasingly close relationship. We remain watchers, appreciative of but never truly understanding the magic of Jane Birkin.
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Clearly a pet project for Gainsbourg (whose own electronic pop songs feature prominently in the soundtrack, clashing against her mother’s classic tunes), the documentary is defiantly insular and lacking in context.
The stakes are low, drama minimal, structure formless. It makes for a viewing experience that is occasionally enjoyable and largely unengaging.
The film neglects to find a conceptual framework for its prolonged consideration of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s eventual revelation: “I have always loved you, but it’s much clearer to me now.”
Jane by Charlotte is a sensitive, pretty, reflective and artful piece that attains intriguing levels of intimacy and emotion alongside moments of banality.
This small, engaging film doesn’t offer much in the way of introduction to Birkin for non-initiates - there’s nothing about her acting career, for example. But for the devoted audience of a star who can – for once – genuinely be called an icon, the film offers a tender and quite illuminating portrait of a mother-daughter relationship seen both within, and far away from, the public sphere of celebrity.
It’s a profound love letter from daughter to mother, an expression of a desire to remain close to her, and in fact, a love letter to all mother-daughter relationships that persist in spite of and because of all the flaws, foibles, and fallibility that comes with being human.
It might not be a broadly relatable piece of cinema, but its commitment to one family’s healing across matriarchal lines is wholesome and inspiring—though overwhelmingly one-note.
Gainsbourg doesn’t cram the film with all that much material, and spares her mom the embarrassment of showing her personal clutter. She essentially goes easy on Birkin, asking intimate questions but settling for shallow answers.
Whether or not the film necessarily works as a narrative feature, Gainsbourg manages to peer inside her mother’s life and lifestyle with an honesty that should make audiences nervous and envious at the same time, seeking answers we may want from our parents but are afraid of enough to be reluctant to ask.