Jane B. for Agnes V. Screen 7 articles

Jane B. for Agnes V.

1988

Jane B. for Agnes V. Poster
  • Birkin said she wanted “to make a feature film about how I really am: jeans, old sweaters, messy hair, barefoot in my garden. Just once, I'd like to forget wigs and pretty costumes. I’d like to be filmed as if I were transparent, anonymous, like everyone else.” So Agnès Varda made that movie. Where there's creativity without agony, there's people living in front of a camera. Agnès Varda turns a film on life into a life on film.

  • When Varda and Birkin set out to make Jane B. par Agnès V., the director had recently turned sixty, and the actress forty, and both were raising children. Birkin’s identity as Gainsbourg’s muse had long-expired, and her identity as an independent mother was finally taking over. One can sense Varda’s curiosity, admiration and acute understanding of Birkin as she poses questions from behind the camera, and sets up different scenarios in which to place her.

  • Often cloying, these whimsical set pieces—which include Birkin in a noirish art-heist plot and in a riff on Laurel and Hardy—are thankfully followed by more straightforward episodes that feature the performer recapitulating her past. During her reminiscences, Birkin is candid, occasionally self-deprecating, and unfailingly charming, never more so than when she delivers this self-assessment with a mischievous smile: “No exceptional talents but I’m here.”

  • A clear portrait of Varda emerges: as a director who is giving and generous in spirit, as an artist unapologetic about putting her obsessions to film, as a woman who is attentive to the insecurities that other women face because she knows them all too well herself. Varda is staring intently at Birkin to reveal something other filmmakers had struggled to unearth. But the mirror is always there, too.

  • The farthest thing from a straightforward documentary, this companion piece to Ms. Varda’s fiction film “Kung-Fu Master,” in which Ms. Birkin played the lead role, “Jane B.” seems the result of a deep, sympathetic collaboration between director and subject.

  • A landmark in feminist cinema, the film is a thoroughly collaborative effort between filmmaker and subject, narratively driven by a conversation between the two that makes plenty of room for tangential flights of fancy as Birkin not only recalls but imagines the many facets of her personal and creative life, putting on different costumes to enact each.

  • The film takes the concept of an actor's showcase to postmodern, avant-garde extremes, doing away with narrative in favor of freeform confessions and performances. The opening establishes the freewheeling tone, placing Birkin in a tableau vivant of a 16th-century painting before spoiling the classical mood by having the actress talk about vomiting on set on her 30th birthday.

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