Review by Camden Ferrell
The relationship between parent and child is one of the most important aspects of one’s life. Jane By Charlotte is a documentary that aims to explore the nuances of this relationship and the effect it can have on one’s life and perspective. What’s interesting about this particular movie is that its subjects are actress Charlotte Gainsbourg and her famous mother Jane Birkin. While the movie’s pursuit of universal themes is noble, the movie is quite bland and might have a hard time reaching an audience outside of its immediate subjects.
Charlotte Gainsbourg has made a name for herself in film, specifically for working with director Lars Von Trier on movies like Antichrist and Nymphomaniac. She has proven herself to be a force as an actress, and this movie was her first time in the director’s chair. However, it’s quite clear early on that this movie would not have premiered at the Cannes Film Festival if it wasn’t for Gainsbourg and her mom being the subjects of the movie. It’s a premise that seems wholesome on paper, but it doesn’t quite work in practice.
Gainsbourg’s pursuit of raw authenticity and emotion is quite obvious from the start, and it feels somewhat forced early on. The movie lays out its themes quite simply, but its journey to touch on those messages is messy more than anything. It feels abstract in nature, but it also feels like it lacks balance and direction which can lead to this being an underwhelming experience. While one can applaud the women’s ability to become vulnerable for a large audience, it’s hard to truly connect to the stories of these women and their significant relationship with each other.
Both Gainsbourg and Birkin are entertaining enough when they want to be, but they seem so dedicated to the realism of the film that they fall into a pit of mundanity that doesn’t really do much for me. They are both talented individuals with a lot of life and personality, but that doesn’t show up much save for a few fleeting moments throughout. There is some good archival footage and other scenes that can showcase these women, but more times than not it fails to speak to audiences in a relatable way.
The topics they discuss are quite thematically heavy, and its ambition is one of the movie’s virtues. However, it bites off more than it can chew, and it can’t properly allocate the necessary time and attention that these intense subjects warrant. Discussing aging, death, fame, and shared memories is a great foundation for the documentary, but without proper exploration, these themes fall flat.
Jane by Charlotte isn’t an accessible documentary, but some may find something to enjoy in this relationship as mother and daughter speak about a myriad of topics relating to their lives. It was a little too disjointed and messy for me, but I did often appreciate the vulnerability of its subjects. I just wish that these topics and themes had more time to flourish in order to speak to audiences in a more profound way.
Jane by Charlotte is on VOD May 6.