Kaleem Aftab catches up with cultural French aristocrat Charlotte Gainsbourg to talk about movies, music, and motherhood
Charlotte Gainsbourg is alluring. Tall and lithe with dark long hair dropping past her visage she’s far from a classic beauty. What she does have is a sense of mystery, and it’s this quality that Italian filmmaker Emanuelle Crialese makes use of in The Golden Door. Gainsbourg is the only non-Italian on a boat heading to Ellis Island and the promised land of America at the beginning of the 20th century. Lucy is on a mission to marry someone on the boat before they arrive on the other side of the pond. It was a part that Gainsbourg desperately wanted to play. She reveals, ‘I met Emanuelle after just having seen Respiro. I was under that film’s charm and completely convinced that he was someone really interesting. He was really convincing with his passion for the story. He has pictures of real people on the boat and on Ellis Island with him. The tests on Ellis Island were something I really didn’t know about. My dad being a Russian immigrant in France has always made me fascinated with immigrant stories.’
Gainsbourg’s film acting choices of late have been as fabulous as they have been varied. Reputable filmmakers on the rise, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Dominic Moll, deployed her indefinable talents well in 21 Grams and Lemming respectively and Michel Gondry painted her as the girl next door in The Science of Sleep. She can soon be seen in Todd Haynes’ highly anticipated Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There.
The 35-year-old has always struggled to escape from the shadow of her parents, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. One such struggle was the production of her album, 5:55, last year. The art pop album was a cathartic exercise that has, she says, been a long time coming. ‘I did an album with my father 20 years ago and I’ve been thinking about doing another record for the past 10 years. At first I never thought that I’d work with anyone else but my father. Gradually I just wanted to find the right people to work with. Once I met with [French electro band] Air, but it was still difficult to go into the studio and record everything.’
Her parents were known, perhaps unfairly, for their unsteady drink-fuelled union. In complete contrast she seems to have the picture perfect marriage with actor Yvan Attal (Munich, The Car Keys) with whom she has two kids. Gainsbourg, who spent four months filming The Golden Door on location in Argentina and Italy, says, ‘It was very difficult not to see my family. I never had to do this before even for a month, it was horrible. I took a decision after this film to never do this again. I won’t sacrifice my family for film.’ And with that she begins to fumble, not for a fistful of Gitanes, but for her mobile, while politely intoning her farewells. The video promo for her debut single ‘Lemon Incest’, in which the 14-year-old Charlotte frolicked provocatively with her father, suddenly seems a very long time ago indeed.
The Golden Door is on selected release from Fri 29 Jun.