Review by Sean Boelman
Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus is an unorthodox romance, the directorial debut of French filmmaker and musician Serge Gainsbourg. Receiving a re-release in a new restoration, this is a film that purposefully and unabashedly defies convention, but in a way that is often shocking and frequently entertaining.
The movie follows a tomboyish waitress who falls in love with a gay garbage truck driver, causing his partner to become jealous. Although this plot is somewhat problematic by today’s standards, this film was originally released in 1976, at which time it would have been a surprising exploration of an aspect of sexuality that wasn’t often discussed, much less portrayed on-screen.
In terms of pacing, the movie definitely won’t appeal to most audiences. By no means is this a traditional romance, the purpose of the film very much being to make the viewer uncomfortable to an extent that the movie can be very hard to watch at times. That said, Gainsbourg’s direct approach to the story is interesting and thought-provoking, to say the least.
In a few instances, the film does seem like it leans a bit too heavily on shock value, but those who are familiar with Gainsbourg’s music (which is sometimes very sexually explicit) will likely be unsurprised by this. However, it never feels as if Gainsbourg is exploiting the sexuality on screen, but instead, like he is portraying it in an honest (and brutal) way.
Gainsbourg’s use of characterization in the movie is also quite unique. Although all three of the characters have characteristics with which the audience can identify, the film never takes one particular character’s side. Instead, Gainsbourg focuses on the dynamic between the three leads as broken individuals linked by the lust that unites them and divides them in equal measure.
The three leads of the movie, Jane Birkin, Joe Dallesandro, and Hugues Quester, have very good chemistry together, selling the love triangle aspect of the film. Birkin, likely the most well-known of the cast, does a great job of carrying the movie. Her subtle emotion, even in the film’s more over-the-top sequences, goes quite a long way.
On a technical level, the movie is very impressive thanks to Gainsbourg’s unique style. Since Gainsbourg was a musician before becoming a filmmaker, the use of music in the film is key. The score (composed by Gainsbourg) is wonderful, both fitting the movie quite well and functioning as a musically complex piece on its own. Gainsbourg’s visual style is also richly detailed and artistic.
An interesting step into the past, Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus certainly won’t be for everyone, but it is a film that is unique in both form and content. Hopefully the other three movies in Gainsbourg’s filmography will also receive a restoration soon.
Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus is now playing in theaters.