La Sentinelle - Jane Birkin et Wajdi Mouawad
When they began their work together, there was an immediate recognition between Jane Birkin and Wajdi Mouawad of the other’s artistic journey and heartfelt struggles, linked by the same urgent and unreserved humanity. The playwright wrote a piece especially for Birkin in her many guises—actress, committed humanitarian and a person with great compassion for the world and its people. The result was La Sentinelle, a poetic ode to the suffering of those who have been sacrificed and denied their dignity.
Jane Birkin and Wajdi Mouawad
Friday, February 10, 2012 07:30 PM
National Arts Centre, Ottawa
(presented in French)
Jane Birkin: “like an indecisive wave”
Birkin was born to actress Judy Campbell and Royal Navy Commander David Birkin. At age 17, she made her first foray into theatre in a play by Graham Greene, then in the musical comedy, Passion Flower Hotel, at which time she met her first partner, composer John Barry. She appeared onscreen in 1965 alongside Charlotte Rampling and Jacqueline Bisset in the seminal film of Swingin’ London, The Knack… and How to Get It. The film took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes, as did her following picture, Antonioni’s Blow-Up.
Birkin arrived in France in 1968 and found success with the film Slogan. Her co-star, Serge Gainsbourg, was to become her Pygmalion and the other half of one of the most popular couples in 1970s France, allowing her to launch her singing career at the same time. A Serge Gainsbourg-Jane Birkin album appeared in 1969. Birkin’s breathy, childlike voice and her strong English accent made her instantly recognizable. It was the beginning of a long partnership that would culminate in a virtually unique body of work in French song with signature tracks such as Ballade de Melody Nelson and Je t’aime…moi non plus.
The following years saw several of Birkin’s albums go gold, including Baby Alone in Babylone (1983) and Arabesque. In 1975, she landed more complex roles in Sept morts sur ordonnance and in Je t’aime, moi non plus, Gainsbourg’s first film.
In 1980, Birkin acted in three films with Jacques Doillon, which opened the doors to auteur cinema. “Suddenly, I had to give all of myself whereas, until that point, no one had asked me to give everything,” she told the magazine Inrockuptibles in 1992. Filmmakers as demanding as Jacques Rivette (L’Amour par terre, La Belle Noiseuse), Agnès Varda (Jane B. for Agnes V., Kung Fu Master!), and Bertrand Tavernier (Daddy Nostalgie), portrayed a moving and inventive actress.
Between French and English, songs and films, popular film and radical works, Jane Birkin found a special place in the cultural landscape, although she was seen more rarely onscreen from the 1990s onwards. Exceptions included Noir comme le souvenir de Mocky and a role in On connaît la chanson. In the 2000s, she rediscovered the burlesque style of her early career with the comedies Reines d’un jour, Mariées mais pas trop and Thelma, Louise et Chantal. In 2009, filmmaker Jacques Rivette, always dedicated to his actresses, offered her a choice role as a melancholic and mysterious woman in 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup.
Having turned to directing in the early 1990s with two short films and the made-for-TV movie Oh pardon ! tu dormais…, in 2007 Birkin directed Boxes, a feature film with autobiographical overtones that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival.
In September 2009, Birkin produced the live album, Jane au Palace. She also continued her humanitarian work with undocumented immigrants, the liberation of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma as well as victims of the earthquake in Haiti and, more recently, in Japan.