Ever since its high-profile release in the mid-1970s, Je
t'aime moi non plus
is a film that has divided critical opinion. It is the
first film to be directed by Serge Gainsbourg, the iconic French musician and singer who
achieved fame and notoriety throughout much of the 1960s and 1970s. Outside of France,
he is probably best known for his 1968 hit pop song, Je
t'aime moi non plus
(from which the idea of this film was developed), which featured
Gainsbourg's then lover Jane Birkin simulating an orgasm. The song was originally
banned in many countries across Europe - including the UK - but subsequently became a
hit when it was re-released (reaching Number One in the UK popular music charts for 1969).
If the song was provocative, the film of the same name was more so - a grimly nihilistic
depiction of sexual gratification involving a gay man and a boy-like young woman getting
it together anal-wise. Clearly, not the kind of film that would appeal to the Jane
Whilst the film has been unfairly rubbished in some quarters, some of the criticism
of Je t'aime moi non plus
is entirely justified.
A mediocre script is made unbearable in a few places by some bad acting. The pace
of the film is uneven and at times the film does resemble too much a tacky piece of 1970s
soft core porn. The film's subject matter is equally off-putting - it portrays gay
men in a generally bad light, fuelling the then prevailing homophobic prejudices, and
its depiction of sex as something that is ugly and destructive is not something that the
average cinemagoer would be likely to stomach. It has all the failings you would
expect in a first film, and then perhaps a few more.
And yet there is something
that is strikingly truthful and alluring about this film. Its depiction of the sexual
game - attraction, union and then separation - is certainly brutal, unconventional and
uncomfortable to watch, but it is presented to us with conviction and sincerity.
Sex is not, as cinema and literature would have us believe, always a thing of immense
beauty. It can also be grotesque, demeaning and crude, horrifyingly destructive,
an irresistible force that ruins its victims, turns their lives inside out and leaves
an indelible stain. In this film, Gainsbourg isn't celebrating the beauty of love,
he is showing us the rarely talked about flipside. Whilst his work as a director
in no way matches up to his talent as a musician, he does manage to bring a certain poetry
to the film - the bleak, dusty location (evocative of the American mid-west) perfectly
underscoring the emptiness of the doomed romantic liaison. It's a stark, demanding
film, flawed in so many ways, yet strangely potent and lyrical, and with a few touches
of artistic brilliance. In an age when the subject matter of the film is less likely
to cause offence, Je t'aime moi non plus
film which merits a serious critical reappraisal.
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