John Charet’s Take On: Je t’aime moi non plus (I Love You, I Don’t) (1976)

Please note that the following may contain a spoiler or two. If you have not seen the film, I recommend not to continue reading from here.

Don’t bother going to see my film, see Gainsbourg’s. That is a work of art.

Francois Truffaut (read here)

Given that it was theatrically released in France one week before Small Change (see here and here), one could easily conclude (based on his above critical rave) that even celebrated French New Wave veteran Francois Truffaut (who helmed the latter) saw Je t’aime moi non plus as the greater masterpiece. Undoubtedly, any aspiring director would envy that kind of praise. Limited to his 5 feature-length films alone (one of which is a documentary), Je t’aime moi non plus served as cult musician Serge Gainsbourg’s directorial debut and to this day, it still stands out as a quintessential example of cinematic outsider art.

Driving through what looks like a desert area (a rural part of France maybe?), gay truckers Krassky (Joe Dallesandro) and Padovan (Hughes Quester) stop and enter a cafe where they are served by boyish waitress Johnny (Jane Birkin). The cafe’s owner Boris (Reinhard Kolldehoff) does not take too kindly to either Krassky or Padovan, but when the former falls for the lovesick Johnny, she can’t help but follow his lead. Nevertheless, their sexual relationship ends up enraging the already insecure Padovan, who goes so far as to almost kill Johnny during the climax.

On the one hand, Je t’aime moi non plus can arguably be seen as an inspired small-scaled collaborative effort. For starters, it is not only scored, but directed and written by noted enfant terrible Serge Gainsbourg. Since 1969, he had been in an open love relationship with the film’s lead actress Jane Birkin. In fact, the film’s title originated from a song Gainsbourg himself had written in 1967. Nevertheless, it only gained popularity (or notoriety) when he and Birkin sang it as a duet two years later.

While it is not unreasonable to expect Je t’aime moi non plus to work simply as a star vehicle for his then lover Jane Birkin, by doing so, we would be underestimating the already unpredictable Serge Gainsbourg’s talents as a director and writer. To complete Birkin, Gainsbourg wisely casted former Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro. Similar to how he approaches Birkin, Gainsbourg (through his camera) happily gazes upon Dallesandro’s body, as do us viewers. As to be expected from the most iconic male sex symbol of American underground cinema and gay subculture (read here and here), the charismatic Dallesandro not only oozes raw sexuality, but also a subtle kind of gentleness. Birkin typically exhibits beauty (even with cropped hair) and (through facial expressions alone) undeniable charm. She truly is to Dallesandro what Jean Seberg was to Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. Maybe it is just me, but If Birkin were an actress during the silent era, she would have been celebrated as a giant.

If Jane Birkin and Joe Dallesandro embody the heart of Je t’aime moi non plus, then director/writer Serge Gainsbourg represents the mind. Gainsbourg debatably has two faces. Whereas Johnny (Birkin) and Krassky (Dallesandro) personify the romantic within him, Padovan (Hughes Quester) arguably symbolizes his rebellious sensibilities. Once you combine the former with the latter, Je t’aime moi non plus finishes up as an erotically charged drama with an anti-erotic bent. After all, Gainsbourg did intend Je t’aime moi non plus as an anti-f**k song (read here and here). This can be clearly emphasized in it’s bittersweet ending (i.e. Krassky leaving Johnny). Johnny and Krassky’s sexual escapades are often titillating, occasionally hillarious, and at once, delightfully tasteless. Much of the film’s humor (as subtle as it is) comes in the form of a running gag involving Johnny and Krassky being kicked out of motels due to their loud lovemaking. Krassky’s attempts to subdue a hysterical Johnny (upon discovering that he is gay) could have easily been nothing more than a mean joke. On the surface, it is, but in the hands of the truly talented Gainsbourg, it becomes as weirdly irresistible as anything found in John Waters underground work. Considering the two were still romantically involved with each other at the time, a credible argument can be made that Je t’aime moi non plus serves as Gainsbourg’s love letter to Birkin.

As of 2022, I would not rank Small Change (despite my love for it) as the greatest of Francois Truffaut’s 1970’s work (that honor goes to the following year’s The Man Who Loved Women), so yes, I too nod in agreement with Truffaut in his sentiment that Je t’aime moi non plus is the superior film. Though Serge Gainsbourg may lack the impressive filmographies that have shaped the respective careers of Truffaut and fellow French New Wave legend Jean-Luc Godard as filmmakers, as a musician, he has more than proven to be every bit as accomplished. Given that I have only seen Je t’aime moi non plus, I can not say for sure whether Gainsbourg would have measured up to them. The one thing I can confirm is that when it comes to directorial debuts, Je t’aime moi non plus resembles the cinematic equivalent of a triple threat. As an erotic drama, Je t’aime moi non plus is simultaneously funny, outrageous and sexy.

* * * * (Out of * * * *) stars

Here is a youtube video link to the film’s French original theatrical trailer

Here is a youtube video link to a 2019 Re-Release trailer from Kino Lorber

Here is an Amazon link to Kino Lorber’s 2020 Blu-Ray/DVD release of the film

Last, but not least, here is a youtube video link to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s duet of Je t’aime moi non plus

16 thoughts on “John Charet’s Take On: Je t’aime moi non plus (I Love You, I Don’t) (1976)

  1. Fantastic review. Really superb review. Well written and I totally agree on all your points, especially on your assessments of Jane Birkin and Joe Dallesandro. You also nailed it by categorising je t’aime moi non plus as outsider art. In this case Serge Gainsbourg was a famous musician making his directorial debut and what a debut it is. It is a highly accomplished and confident film, almost as if it’s the work of a seasoned director rather than someone making his directorial debut. It’s a very impressive directorial debut by Gainsbourg. I highly recommend this film. It’a one of my favourite films and it’s in my top five favourite films ever.

    Francois Truffaut was certainly right in calling the film a work of art. I think it’s a beautiful film with a lot of beautiful scenes. A favourite of mine is the scene with Joe and Jane floating on a tube on a lake. It’s a beautiful combination of imagery and music.

    The whole film is beautifully photographed. Infact the photography and framing of shots made me think of Terrence Malick. Maybe Gainsbourg was influenced by Malick. It can’t be a coincidence that Krassky and Padovan are garbage collectors, the same as Sheen’s Kit Carruthers. Also, maybe Krassky and Johnny are comparable to Kit Carruthers and Holly.

    Je t’aime moi non plus wasn’t widely seen outside of France. It was actually refused a certificate and unseen in Britain for 17 years before it was granted a release and 18 certificate. It’s somewhat depressing that a work of great artistic merit with a lot of tenderness was banned and unseen for many years.

    I think the film would’ve been perfect for Alex Cox’s Moviedrome and if not that then Forbidden Weekend on BBC 2. It would be appropriate for that because of it’s censorship. An Alex Cox intro to the film would be great. Alex did talk about Gainsbourg and Birkin’s song je t’aime moi non plus in the Moviedrome intro of Romance of a Horsethief, which Jane Birkin was in.

    Jane Birkin is a virtuoso in the film. She gives a great performance. I’ve discussed Joe Dallesandro’s work in Italian and French films in the seventies on here before. He starred in Italian polizotteschis (including The Climber, Savage Three and Born Winner) where he was a perfect fit for the genre. In France he was also in Louis Malle’s Black Moon and Jacques Rivette’s Merry-Go-Round. He then went to Hollywood and was in movies including The Cotton Club, Cry-Baby, The Limey, Guncrazy, L.A. Without A Map and TV shows including Miami Vice.

    Joe’s status as an underground icon through his Warhol association is also well known. He was apparently the Little Joe of Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side (“Little Joe never once gave it away…”) although Joe always pointed out that this was actually the character he played in the 1968 Warhol film Flesh rather than the real him. He was also on two album covers The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and The Smith’s self titled first album.

    Overall I agree that je t’aime moi non plus is a masterpiece. This is a fantastic review. I really liked reading it and thanks for writing it!

  2. Sorry to say I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as you did. I found it to be rather pretentious, and lacking in definable acting skill. I was 24 at the time, and almost left the cinema before the end of the film.
    Still, we can’t all like the same things, that would be boring. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. That’s too bad. I think it’s a wild and quite exhilarating film. I don’t think it’s pretentious at all. I think the acting is excellent across the board. I think the actors were perfect for their characters.

  4. Why thank you for the kind words Steve 🙂 I could not state your views in that first paragraph any better 🙂 As for myself, let me just that I see it as one of the many greatest films ever made 🙂

    I too love the lake scene 🙂 At first, I was going to compare it to the work of Michelangelo Antonioni given the film’s color scheme, before finally deciding on centering around the two central characters. I think what made me compare Johnny and Krassky to Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo was that like Breathless, Je t’aime moi non plus is French material and Seberg’s short hair in Breathless reminded me of Jane Birkin’s hairstyle in Je t’aime. Nevertheless, when it comes to the plot, your Badlands comparison of Birkin and Joe Dallesandro equaling Sissy Spacek’s Holly and Martin Sheen’s Kit Carruthers may be a more fitting analogy. After all, prior to going on a killing spree, Sheen’s Kit Carruthers was a garbage man like Dallesandro’s Krassky.

    I was aware that Je t’aime moi non plus was not shown in the UK until 1993, which was also the same year that 1966’s Django would finally be granted a release. I agree that it was sad that a work like this was banned for 17 years.

    A Moviedrome or Forbidden Weekend showing of Je t’aime moi non plus with Alex Cox introducing it would have been awesome 🙂 I do remember that Cox mentioned the song when introducing Romance of a Horsethief. I do not know If you aware of this, but the Birkin bag, was named after her. Here is a wikipedia link below 🙂

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birkin_bag

    Jane Birkin is just magnificent 🙂 One of her daughters is an actress as well – Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has appeared in some of Lars Von Trier’s films – one of them being 2009’s Antichrist. Along with Birkin, Serge would be very proud 🙂 Ever since you have become a regular visitor on here, I have become quite knowledgable about Joe Dallesandro’s career with me as student and you as professor 🙂 Dallesandro has worked with some really interesting people on those films 🙂 Francis Ford Coppola, John Waters and Stephen Soderbergh to name just three. Speaking of which, I would be interested in hearing from him what it was like working for Coppola because I know he got along well with Waters 🙂

    I actually read about that Lou Reed story and Joe Dallesandro’s association with it and yes, it was pretty interesting 🙂 Also, to be on the cover of albums by The Rolling Stones and The Smith’s is just amazing 🙂

    I nod in agreement with you that Serge Gainsbourg made a masterpiece 🙂 Thank you for the kind words, I am glad you loved reading it and I was more than happy to write the review 🙂 Now I got to get cracking on watching the four hour cut of Blood Ties 🙂

  5. Great to hear from you again Cindy 🙂 At the very least, Je t’aime moi non plus is every bit the equal of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in Paris – but then again, one has to be a huge fan of that film to echo my view of Je t’aime moi non plus being equal to that earlier film 🙂 Anyway, thanks for dropping by 🙂

  6. That is very unfortunate Pete, but you are entitled to your own opinion 🙂 I echo Steve’s view of the film 🙂 Anyway, thanks for dropping by 🙂

  7. Thank you once again Steve, I too love both duets – the one with Jane Birkin and the one with Brigitte Bardot 🙂 They both complement each other 🙂

  8. I’m pleased that you think so highly of je t’aime moi non plus. I agree of course.
    I didn’t know the about the Birkin Bag. That’s interesting and it’s great that Charlotte Gainsbourg became an actress too.

    Joe has told the story in interviews that Francis was interested in casting him as Michal Corleone in The Godfather. He called up Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey to ask about him. Warhol said “I think he does drugs” and Morrissey said “I don’t think he can work from a script”. Joe was very angry about this and that’s the reason why he stopped working with Warhol and Morrissey. A decade or so later Francis heard Joe was now in Hollywood and cast him as Lucky Luciano in The Cotton Club. Apparently Joe got on really well with Francis on that film and was pleased that every scene that Francis shot of him ended up the finished film.

    Joe was great in The Cotton Club despite it being a small role. He absolutely nailed Luciano and I think he was the best screen Lucky Luciano ever. He looked a lot like the younger Luciano and he just totally nailed his personality. It would’ve been good if Joe had played Luciano in a whole movie or mini series. I think the other best screen interpretation of Luciano is by Gian Maria Volonte in Francisco Rossi’s Lucky Luciano (1973). Volonte was great as the older Luciano moreso than the younger Luciano though.

    Speaking of Volonte and Rossi. Their film Mattei Affair, which Alex Cox speaks highly of and is one of his favourite films, is now on youtube. I’ll have to give it a watch.

    Joe also filmed a cameo in Altman’s The Player but this scene was cut from the finished film which is too bad. Here’s the scene. Joe is having lunch with Tim Curry and Seymour Cassell.
    Joe and Pennywise the clown! Franco Nero is also in this scene. Joe and Django! They were also interviewed in the Eurocrime documentary of course.

    About Joe being in The Godfather. He may have been visually perfect for the role but I think by the early seventies he wouldn’t have had the acting ability required for the role. By that point he wasn’t a professional actor, didn’t have much acting experience and hadn’t been to acting school whereas Al Pacino by that point was a critically acclaimed and award winning stage actor which made him more qualified for the role. Despite that Paramount didn’t want him for the role as he wasn’t famous or a star by that point and had only starred in one film, the junkie drama The Panic In Needle Park. Great that Francis ultimately got to cast him in the film though. Joe did become a better actor as he went on though. He had charisma and screen presence which are vital to an actor.

    I loved the review. Would you be interested in writing reviews of any of the other films I recommended to you? You said you would like to write a review of The Climber. You said you thought The Tough Ones was a masterpiece. Would you be interested in writing a review of it?

  9. I can understand Steve why Joe Dallesandro harbored a grudge at the time considering that The Godfather was a hot item in Hollywood at the time 🙂

    I too think that Joe Dallesandro would have made a great Lucky Luciano – your talk about younger and older Lucky Luciano is worthy of the two plots in The Godfather Part II – present day sequence concerns Michael Corleone and the flashbacks concern Vito Corleone when he was younger (played this time by Robert De Niro) 🙂 I too saw Francisco Rossi’s Lucky Luciano and I loved it, but I do see what you are saying concerning him being better at playing the older version 🙂

    I have watched The Mattei Affair and loved it 🙂 So yes, please do give it a watch 🙂 Rossi also directed this masterful 1962 crime drama entitled Salvatore Giuliano 🙂 British film critic Derek Malcolm is reportedly a huge fan of it 🙂

    Thank you for that link to that deleted scene from The Player with some more cameos – I really loved seeing not only Seymour Cassell, but also Franco Nero, Joe Dallesandro and Tim Curry in a Robert Altman film 🙂 For me, working with someone like Altman, makes one awesome in my book 🙂 Speaking of which, Eleonora Giorgi’s character Marzia in Born Winner quickly gushes about him in a passage read by Massimo Ranieri’s character Sandro 🙂

    I too concur with your thoughts about Joe Dallesandro and The Godfather – he was still developing as an actor, despite being a natural with the films of Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol. You are right though that Dallesandro eventually matured as an actor 🙂

    Thank you for the kind words as always and yes, I will be happy to write more reviews on the films I saw recommended by you 🙂 I will be happy to write a review of both 🙂 How about I make the next one be The Climber? 🙂

  10. I’ll definitely watch Mattei Affair then and some other Rosi films too.

    Eleonora Giorgi, she was so beautiful and gorgeous. I really liked her in Born Winner and Young, Violent, Dangerous with Tomas Milian. Stefania Casini was beautiful too.

    The next review being The Climber would be cool. I think that would be a great review too.

  11. I haven’t seen the film so I took your advice and didn’t read on. It is good to see a full length review here, great, insightful comments too.

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