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22 December 2013

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Anglo-French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg (1971) is the daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg. The tall, long-necked, and elegantly gawky Gainsbourg appeared in several films by Lars von Trier and many other major directors, and received both a César Award and the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award.

Charlotte Gainsbourg
French postcard by Edition F. Nugeron, no. 11. Photo: Publicity still for Charlotte for Ever (Serge Gainsbourg, 1986).

Lemon Incest


Charlotte Lucy Gainsbourg was born in London in 1971. She is the daughter of English actress Jane Birkin and French singer and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. Her maternal grandmother was actress Judy Campbell and her uncle is the screenwriter Andrew Birkin, who directed her in The Cement Garden.

Gainsbourg grew up Paris where she attended the École Active Bilingue Jeannine Manuel. Later she studied at the Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil in Switzerland.

At 13, Gainsbourg made her musical debut with her father on the song Lemon Incest in 1984. The music video featured the two cuddling on a bed surrounded by feathers. Not unexpectedly, the song raised a lot of controversy in France.

Gainsbourg made her film debut the next year playing Catherine Deneuve's daughter in Paroles et musique/Love Songs (Élie Chouraqui, 1984) with Christophe Lambert. More roles soon followed.

Successful was L'effronté/An Impudent Girl (Claude Miller, 1985), a free adaptation of the novel The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. James Travers at French Film Guide: “In her first substantial film role, Gainsbourg is magnificent. Her sensitive portrayal of a thirteen year old girl captures the harrowing insecurity and irrational behaviour of adolescence, without resorting to the kind of manipulative sentimentality or loud-mouthed histrionics which most cinema audiences have come to expect of teenage actors.”

L'effronté won the Louis Delluc Prize, and received in 1986 César nominations for Best Film, Best Director, Most Promising Actor, Best Writing, Best Costume Design and Best Sound. Gainsbourg won the César for Most Promising Actress. Charlotte was fifteen at the time.

In 1986 she also released her debut album Charlotte for Ever, which was produced by her father. They also played together in his poorly received film Charlotte for Ever (Serge Gainsbourg, 1986) in which Stan (Serge Gainsbourg) depressed over his wife's death turns his affection over to his daughter Charlotte (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

With her mother and her half-sister Lou Doillon, she appeared in the drama Kung Fu Master/Le Petit Amour (Agnès Varda, 1988).

A box office hit was the drama La Petite Voleuse/The Little Thief (Claude Miller, 1988), as a sullen teenager experimenting with sex and various illegal pursuits. The film was based upon an unfinished script by François Truffaut, who died before being able to direct the film himself.

Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte Gainsbourg
With her father Serge Gainsbourg. French postcard.

Charlotte Gainsbourg, Serge Gainsbourg
With her father Serge Gainsbourg. French postcard, no. A197. Sent by mail in 1995.

What It Feels Like For A Girl


In 1990 Charlotte Gainsbourg co-starred with Julian Sands in the Italian film Il sole anche di notte/The Sun Also Shines at Night (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, 1990).

It was followed by the French black comedy Merci la vie (Bertrand Blier, 1991), in which she and Anouk Grinberg played two young women on a rampage against men and just about whomever else crosses their path. Merci la vie was nominated for the César for Best Film, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Writing and Best Editing.

She made her English speaking debut in The Cement Garden (1993), written and directed by her uncle, Andrew Birkin. The film based on the novel by Ian McEwan, was entered into the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival, where Birkin won the Silver Bear for Best Director.

Gainsbourg made her stage debut in 1994 in David Mamet's Oleanna at the Théâtre de la Gaîté-Montparnasse.

In 1996, she starred opposite William Hurt as the title character in Jane Eyre (Franco Zeffirelli, 1996), a film adaption of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel.

In Love Etc. (Marion Vernoux, 1996), she co-starred with French-Israeli actor/director Yvan Attal. The two fell in love a few years earlier and in 1997 their son Ben was born. Together they also have a daughter Alice (2002) and another son Joe (2011).

In 2000, Gainsbourg won the Cesar for Best Supporting Actress for the film La Bûche/Season's Beatings (Danièle Thompson, 1999).

Gainsbourg was also featured on the Madonna album Music (2000) on the track What It Feels Like For A Girl. There is a lengthy spoken intro by Gainsbourg, taken from the film The Cement Garden, which inspired the title of the song.

In the romantic comedy-drama Ma Femme est une actrice/My Wife is an Actress (Yvan Attal, 2001), she co-starred with her partner Yvan Attal. Attal plays a journalist who becomes obsessively jealous when his actress wife gets a part in a film with an attractive co-star (Terence Stamp). Attal also wrote the script.

In a popular French TV series of Les Miserables (Josée Dayan, 2002), she played Fantine opposite Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich.

Gainsbourg made her Hollywood debut with the successful drama 21 Grams (2003) directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. It also stars Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio del Toro.

With Attal she appeared again in a romantic comedy, Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants/Happily Ever After (Yvan Attal, 2004), with a lengthy cameo appearance of Johnny Depp, who speaks fluent French.

Charlotte Gainsbourg
French postcard, no. 1175.

Charlotte Gainsbourg
French postcard, no. 207.

Exuberant Sense Of Fun


In 2004, Charlotte Gainsbourg sang a duet with French pop star Étienne Daho on his single If. It lead to more. In 2006, more than twenty years, after the release of her debut album Charlotte for Ever, she released the album 5:55, to commercial and critical success. It reached the top spot on the French charts and achieved platinum status.

That year, Gainsbourg also appeared alongside Gael García Bernal in Michel Gondry's surrealistic science fantasy comedy La Science des rêves/The Science of Sleep (2006). James Travers at French Film Guide: “it is hard not to be seduced by its naïve poetry, romanticism and exuberant sense of fun. A cinematic oddity it may be, but La Science des rêves is also probably one of the cutest and most authentic French rom-coms you will ever see.”

In 2007, Gainsbourg appeared as Claire in the Todd Haynes-directed Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, also contributing a cover of the Dylan song Just Like a Woman to the film soundtrack.

On 5 September 2007, Gainsbourg was rushed to a Paris hospital where she underwent surgery for a cerebral haemorrhage. She had been experiencing headaches since a minor water-skiing accident in the United States several weeks earlier.

She returned in grand style to the screen in the Danish art film Antichrist (2009), written and directed by Lars von Trier, co-starring Willem Dafoe. It follows horror film conventions and tells the story of a couple who, after the death of their child, retreat to a cabin in the woods where the man experiences strange visions and the woman manifests increasingly violent sexual behaviour.

After premiering at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where Gainsbourg won the festival's award for Best Actress, the film immediately caused controversy, with critics generally praising the film's artistic execution but strongly divided regarding its substantive merit. Other awards won by the film include the Robert Award for best Danish film, The Nordic Council Film Prize for best Nordic film and the European Film Award for best cinematography.

In late 2009, Gainsbourg released her third studio album, IRM, which was produced by Beck. One of the influential factors in the album's creative process was her time spent filming Antichrist. Gainsbourg's head injury in 2007 influenced the title of the album. IRM is an abbreviation for the French translation of ‘magnetic resonance imaging’. While receiving a brain scan, she began to think about music.

She co-starred with Romain Duris and Jean-Hugues Anglade in the romantic drama Persécution (Patrice Chéreau, 2009) which was nominated for a Golden Lion at the 66th Venice International Film Festival.

Gainsbourg starred in the French/Australian production The Tree (Julie Bertuccelli, 2010), for which she got another César nomination, and in Lars von Trier's apocalyptic drama, Melancholia (2011), with Kirsten Dunst and Alexander Skarsgård.

Dimitri Ehrlich in Interview magazine: “she has managed to avoid all of the ego-trappings of movie stardom, instead working with a seriousness and purity that seem to belong to a different era. Onscreen, she can radiate emotions like a filament about to erupt, with a tenderness and honesty that give her work its gravitational pull.”

Next, she will star in the upcoming Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier, 2013), with Stellan Skarsgård, and in the German 3D drama Every Thing Will Be Fine (Wim Wenders, 2014) with James Franco.

Charlotte Gainsbourg resides in the elegant 7th arrondissement of Paris, France, her father's birthplace.


Trailer Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants/Happily Ever After (Yvan Attal, 2004). Source: Turuina (YouTube).


Official trailer Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009). Source: Viso Trailers (YouTube).

Sources: James Travers (French Film Guide), Dimitri Ehrlich (Interview), Rebecca Flint Marx (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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