Portrait of an actress and of Her characters
When Agnes Varda presented Sans Toit ni Loi (Vagabond) in cinemas, she received much fan mail. Among them a letter from Jane Birkin, whose calligraphy Agnes had difficulty reading which motivated her in meeting the actress. Establishing with Jane a beautiful friendship that allowed them to participate in two projects. Firstly, this film.
Jane B For Agnes V.
A docudrama that allows Agnes Varda to make a poetic portrayal of Jane Birkin. Of the actress and her life, joining to her case a series of photos of her childhood and her family events. But also her thoughts, feelings, and anxieties. And not in a banal documentary display with a chair for the subject to sit and speak his soul. Indeed, through stunning locations around Paris, Agnes interviews Jane. Sometimes before the camera, or other times behind it. And it gives the chance for Agnes to create a complicity with Jane. Allowing her to reveal thoughts and details that other interviewers and show hosts wouldn’t usually obtain. For instance one of her worst nightmares. Which I shall not reveal, but which I think so many share and wouldn’t want to admit.
Even better, the director gifts Jane the joy to perform in this film roles she never got to portray as sadly, from the success of the 1968 classic Slogan, French cinema always typecasted Jane Birkin as this silly naive English she portrayed in Slogan. In movies that she found mediocre, unworthy of the talent she exhibited further in Serge Gainsbourg’s film Je T’aime Moi Non Plus. So thanks to Agnes, she gets to play marvellous roles set in comedy, drama, theatre, romanticism, and surrealism. In beautiful scenes that reminisce certain classical portraits and art currents. Though the most prominent storyline is of a femme fatale who steals money from her lover. Culminating in an explosive showdown in an Art exhibition warehouse.
Of the interview moments she shares with Agnes, one amazing dialogue occurred around Christmas in a Big square that attracted so much crowd (over 50 people) the public was standing a few feet behind her. And after her talk, she took time to sign autographs with fans. All of them very kind and happy to meet her. While she showed to them a genuine love for her fans that is so different from other artists who don’t give a damn about them and can be very rude.
As for the visuality of the film, it is interesting how Agnes allows the camera and the film crew to be part of the project. Indeed, we see the camera and the crew filming Jane either through mirror effects or in scenes that influence some of the roles she performs (ex: Ariane exploring the Minotaur’s Maze), or when she speaks of artists she admires like Marilyn Monroe.
For the soundwork, Agnes puts in it original compositions, but also beautiful tunes such as The Doors‘ The Changeling to present the incredible popularity Jane has in France. Not only that, that tune was a great way to honour that group’s music as she was a close friend of Jim Morrisson and the group. Furthermore, Agnes even films a repetition she has had with Serge Gainsbourg as she recorded the Song Le Moi et Le Je and he directs her, but we also see her performance of the song in rehearsals and on the Bataclan stage; where the public applauded her.
But on another note, Jane B. For Agnes V. is a chance for the two artists to speak about an upcoming project they intend to do together. A motion picture called Kung Fu Master where they and their families would shoot the project together in their own surroundings. Making this film a home movie moment that both sides will work together and enjoy watching later on.
In the end, Jane B. For Agnes V. is the encounter between two powerful artists in French cinema who establish a human and down-to-earth dialogue. And experience a great project and friendship that is exceptional in this business.