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Je t'aime moi non plus
The beautiful Jane Birkin plays Johnny, a tomboyish looking waitress who works, and lives, in a remote truck stop in rural France. She's lonely and longs for romance, the only real company she has is her sleazy boss Boris (René Kolldehoff), who is abusive to her. When she meets a garbage truck driver named Krassky (Joe Dallessandro), she falls pretty hard for him, though Boris warns her that he's gay. Krassky does, in fact, have a boyfriend in the form of Padovan (Hugues Quester), though despite this fact he's clearly attracted to Johnny.
As Krasky and Johnny carry on an affair, Padovan becomes upset, enraged even, going so far as to bring in a local peasant man (Gérard Depardieu) to help him solve the problem.
Simultaneously remarkably warped and completely romantic at the same time, singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg's directorial debut is an effecting film that still packs a punch today. It deals with the complications of human sexuality and preference head on, never pulling back. Case in point? Krassky can't make love to Johnny unless he's able to see male qualities in her, eventually leading to a memorably unsettling scene where he has anal sex with her. The melodrama in the film is played to the hilt, often times quite over the top, and the whole thing reeks of nihilism from the very start but damn it all if Gainsbourg hasn't crafted a seriously compelling film. Inspired by his controversial hit song of the same name (which translates into English as ‘I love you, I don't') and written by the man himself, Gainsbourg infects the film with his own perverse sense of humor but never at the expense of the dramatic tragedy that very much serves as the core of the narrative.
The film is also a bit of a visual masterpiece. It is incredibly well-shot, not just the love scenes that it is remembered for but the whole thing in general looks fantastic. The cinematography from Willy Kurant is clever, seemingly preoccupied for large chunks of its running time with waste and garbage, very definitely serving as a metaphor for some of the human characters in the film. At one point, after he and Krassky hit a bird in their garbage truck, Padovan throws its corpse into the air and pretends to fire a machine gun at it while Krassky relieves himself in the dump nearby. There's a lot to take in as far as the visuals go, and it's certainly no coincidence that the dump setting plays an important part in the film's big finish (we won't spoil the ending here). On top of that, the music in the picture, all of which was composed by Gainsbourg himself, is truly beautiful and does an interesting job of contrasting with the visuals and the stronger, more explicit content in the film.
You've got to give Birkin and Dallesandro full marks here as well, as they both really sell it. Birkin, who was romantically linked to Gainsbourg for years including the period in which this film was made, is fantastic here. She's made up to be very androgynous, rail thin and with a short, boyish haircut, and yet she still very definitely has noticeable feminine qualities about her. She's beautiful in the film and her performance is nothing if not committed. Dallesandro, who had a good run making films in Europe after doing the Warhol/Morrissey pictures, is also very well cast in this picture. He isn't an actor with a whole lot of range but he has the right physical presence to pull this off and make it work. The fact that there isn't a ton of dialogue in the film doesn't hurt things either, as Dallesandro's acting style is definitely more physical than anything else. Supporting work from Hugues Quester is also very strong, he's pretty convincing as Krassky's jilted lover. Iconic French actor Gérard Depardieu's role in the film is a small one, but an important one and he too does fine work.
Je t'aime moi non plus arrives on a 50GB disc with the feature taking up just over 27GBs of space. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer, which is properly framed in the films' original 1.66.1 widescreen aspect ratio and taken from a new 4k restoration and it looks excellent. Colors are reproduced quite nicely and look very accurate and we get strong black levels as well. Skin tones look very realistic, never waxy or too pink. Detail is very strong throughout, though there are occasional shots that look a bit softer than others due to the original photography. No problems to note with any compression artifacts and the image retains a nice, filmic quality throughout. Edge enhancement and noise reduction are never a problem, this looks great overall.
The 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, in the film's original French language, sounds quite good. There's limit to the range, understandable given the source, but there are no problems with any hiss, distortion or sibilance. Dialogue sounds clean and clear and the score has good clarity to it. This isn't a particularly sound effects-heavy movie but what there is also sounds good. The optional English subtitles are easy to read and free of any noticeable typos.
Samm Deighan provides an audio commentary on this release that is definitely worth listening to she covers a lot of ground here and keeps it interesting throughout. There's lots of talk here about Birkin and Dallesandro's respective careers as well as their performances but there's just as much talk about Gainsbourg's work in all of this. She covers not just the history of the movie that he wrote, directed and scored but also the history of the song from which the picture takes its title, which was a lightning rod for controversy when it was released in the sixties thanks to the remarkably suggestive moaning courtesy of Birkin on the track. Those familiar with Gainsbourg's career already know he had his own set of demons to deal with, and that his relationship with muse Birkin could be tempestuous, and that is covered in a good bit of detail here too. All in all, Deighan does a very good job here, it's quite an interesting listen.
Additionally, the disc includes a fourteen-minute interview with Joe Dallesandro where he speaks about how he wound up cast in the film, working with Gainsbourg and Birkin and how he feels about the film overall. Dallesandro and Birkin appear together in a twenty-four-minute Q&A session that took place in New York City at Lincoln Center. They talk about what it was like on set, Gainsbourg's involvement in the production, how they got along during the making of the movie and the picture's legacy.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is a trailer for the feature, as well as menus and chapter selection.
Je t'aime moi non plus is a difficult film to classify, and even now, almost forty-years since it was made, it's just as likely to offend an audience as it is to entertain or even titillate. That said, it's a very well-made picture with some genuinely strong performances, fantastic direction and a whole lot of food for thought. Kino Lorber has done a great job bringing this to Blu-ray with an excellent presentation and a nice selection of extra features. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.