Serge Gainsbourg wrote it, directed it, stars in it and cast his daughter, Charlotte, as his movie daughter in Charlotte For Ever. It’s a family affair that crosses into an uncomfortable realm of implied incest that Serge often exploited/explored in his art. The PC police may get their knickers in a twist but fuck ‘em. One of the functions of art, and a healthy one at that, is confronting taboos and shedding light on how humans behave in the dark places. Gainsbourg’s lack of artifice and Cassavetes-like blurring of the line between drama and reality makes Charlotte For Ever almost unbearably intimate. Gainsbourg took chances in unloading a shitload of his id into his creations and the pleasure principle was the carburetor that fueled his engine. His cri de coeur is often muddled by the blurting of his cock.
Gainsbourg wasn’t the only modern French director to explore incest. Louis Malle, Bertrand Blier, Christophe Honore and Leos Carax have all gone there. In Malles’ Murmur Of The Heart a mother introduces her son to sex and somehow it seems almost wholesome. Maybe it’s a French thing?
Charlotte For Ever was released in 1986. French audiences were repelled and it promptly disappeared. The story of a suicidal alcoholic writer desperately looking for a link to redemption through his beautiful young daughter was too dark, too disturbingly erotic, for even the arthouse crowd. Or maybe it’s just too damned pretentious. I’m divided. As a fan of both Serge and Charlotte, I admire the chances taken and the commitment made to a project that required profound sensitivity and trust. How much is autobiographical I don’t know. But like the films of Cassavetes it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the fact that there are artists who see film not merely as a storytelling medium, but as a kind of scalpel that can peel back the hidden parts of what makes us human. And that can be painful… and exhilarating.
As for those of you who might worry for the young Charlotte Gainsbourg, I wouldn’t. She seems to have survived her father’s inspired madness with her head firmly intact. In fact, she’s continued in the Gainsbourgian tradition of dropping turds in the punchbowl with the films she’s done with Lars Von Trier and her uncle Andrew Birkin. La pomme doesn’t fall far from the tree.