Daughter and mother reunion: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin bare their souls for a directorial debut in Cannes before Charlotte takes over jury duties in Deauville Photo: The Party Film Sales
Gainsbourg, daughter of French society icons, actress and singer Jane Birkin, and the late singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, grew up with her mother after her parents split in 1980. She features as a first-time director at the Cannes Film Festival with a portrait of her mother Jane By Charlotte in the Cannes Premiere section. They bare their souls to one another, leaving space for a mother-daughter relationship to unfold.
The voices of mother and daughter are very similar although, in English, Charlotte's accent betrays her French influence. She once told me to "feeling French although the English culture in my family is important. So I feel a bit of both. I have worked on the accent but the vocabulary isn't there," she says. Every so often she weaves out of English and into French to put across the precise meaning.
Charlotte Gainsbourg: 'I’m not really like my parents at all' Photo: Richard Mowe
"I'm not really like my parents at all, but things were much more eccentric and fun in those days. In some ways I had a fairly conventional upbringing and went to school like any other child. On the other hand, I was taken to night clubs when I was only two years old."
Charlotte achieved some of her own notoriety, albeit innocently, when she was 12, and made a record with her father, Lemon Incest, which included the lines "Papapapa the love which we make together is the rarest, the most disturbing, the purest, the most intoxicating a exquisite form, delicious child." In France, the record and the accompanying video, Charlotte Forever, caused less offence than Gainsbourg senior’s reggae version of La Marseillaise.
"I know it was a big scandal," she once said, "but I did not care about what people thought. I didn't talk about it, and nobody did at school either so I lived in this protective bubble."
She fell into acting without fully realising it was what she wanted to do. Her first role, aged 12, was as Catherine Deneuve's daughter in Paroles et Musique - then three years later she won a best newcomer César, the French Oscar, for her role in An Impudent Girl (L'Effrontée). She also made an impression in her uncle Andrew Birkin's The Cement Garden, from Ian McEwan's novel of adolescent angst and sexuality.
Gainsbourg has continued her eclectic career by working with such directors as Lars Von Trier (Nymphomaniac, Antichrist, and Melancholia), Riad Sattouf (Jacky In The Kingdom Of Women), Gaspard Noë (Lux Æterna), Jacques Doillon (Lover), and Benoît Jacquot (3 Hearts) as well as her partner Attal, with whom she has three children Joe, 10, Alice,18, and Ben, 24.
She used to live most of the time in New York where she had said: “I feel I’m being myself with nobody noticing. And I’m not noticing. I feel very different, because I’m not looking at myself all the time.” But with Covid and a New York that had become “a deserted city” she panicked and pronounced that she needed to be in Paris with Yvan and the rest of her extended family and moved back.
She has released five albums and been in more than 40 movies; her latest is a French comedy called My Dog Stupid, directed by Attal and featuring her son, 22-year-old Ben (her daughters, Alice, 16, and Joe, eight, live with her in New York). She also models, and is the face of Saint Laurent. She doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, but admits she has started to worry that the work will dry up as she gets older.
Not that there seems to be a sign of such a famine any time soon. Gainsbourg currently is on French screens in the title role of Suzanne Andler by Benoît Jacquot.
Based on the Marguerite Duras play of the same name, it’s the portrait of a woman trapped in her marriage to a wealthy, unfaithful businessman in the 1960s. She must choose between her conventional destiny as a wife and mother, and her freedom, embodied by her young lover.