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Charlotte for Ever

D: Serge Gainsbourg / 90m

Cast: Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Roland Bertin, Roland Dubillard, Anne Zamberlan, Anne Le Guernec, Sabeline Campo

Stanley (Serge Gainsbourg) is a movie maker who is down on his luck. His wife has recently died in a car accident and he has no money; all he has left is his daughter, Charlotte (Gainsbourg). He tries to get an advance for a new script from his friend, Herman (Dubillard), but it comes with a condition: he must come up with the script in a week’s time.

Charlotte blames him for the death of her mother. The car she was in, and which Stanley was driving, crashed into a petrol tanker. The subsequent explosion killed Stanley’s wife, and left him with a burned hand. He displays regret and sadness at her death but refuses to be made to feel guilty about what happened. Charlotte battles against him, being obstinate and aggressive and continually challenging his assertions about the accident and his lack of culpability. She also takes issue with his liaisons with young women who appear at their home on a regular basis.

Stanley receives a visit from his doctor, Leon (Bertin) who is gay and has recently split up from his boyfriend. Leon is depressed and unhappy, but Stanley is unsupportive toward him; only Charlotte shows him any sympathy. His visit encourages Stanley to think more on the script he needs to write. But instead of coming up with something original he decides to plagiarise the work of Benjamin Constant. When the script is finished, Stanley gives it to Herman who thinks it’s terrific. Leon is present when he reads through it, though, and he tells Herman what Stanley has done. Herman is furious, but Stanley is oblivious and hits on him again for money.

Charlotte encounters Adelaide (Le Guernec), one of her father’s conquests, and angry at her (and him), she attacks her. Stanley discovers them and makes Adelaide leave before he attempts to placate Charlotte. She shows some remorse for her actions, and later, tells her father that she never really blamed him for her mother’s death.

Charlotte for Ever - scene

With a screenplay filled to the brim with literary and sexual references galore, as well as a few literally sexual references, Charlotte for Ever, the brainchild of multi-talented Serge Gainsbourg, is a movie that any viewer will hope is just that: a movie. Because if it isn’t, and it only semi-accurately describes the relationship between real-life father and daughter Serge and Charlotte, then this psycho-sexual drama is likely to leave a sour taste in the mouth.

From the opening scene where Stanley tells Herman how his attention has been transferred from his wife to Charlotte, and his speech becomes more and more erotically charged (with more than one reference to Nabokov’s Lolita to reinforce the issue), the movie becomes an uncomfortable experience to watch as he manipulates his conversations with his daughter, and the viewer is left wondering if Gainsbourg the writer/director/father isn’t averse to sharing his real feelings for Gainsbourg the actress/daughter. Charlotte Gainsbourg was fifteen when the movie was made, and there are scenes where she appears topless, including one that involves her being manhandled by her father. It may be that Charlotte was a willing, and completely aware, participant in the movie, but the fact that Gainsbourg chose his daughter for the role, and not another actress, doesn’t make it any easier to appreciate.

Added to this is Gainsbourg’s continual use of sexual rhetoric and innuendo, best displayed (if “best” is the right word) in a scene where Charlotte is doing her homework. It consists of a series of questions that she asks for his help with. One question is: “What quality do you most admire in a woman?” Stanley’s response is: “Her wetness.” There are other examples where Stanley’s blunt, unapologetic use of single entendres is used and most of them are wince-inducing. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Gainsbourg is playing with the audience, but the fact that he’s using his daughter as part of the game makes it all the more unconscionable. It’s also like seeing a naughty schoolboy trying to shock his teachers: the schoolboy knows what he’s doing will cause a stir, but he doesn’t have the context that would make it more palatable – or forgivable.

With the supporting characters in place for Stanley (and Gainsbourg) to feel superior to, the movie ends up looking and sounding more like a vanity piece than a fully realised drama. Everyone talks in an arch, mannered way of speaking that features literary quotes, apothegms, precepts and quasi-philosophical assertions that are only superficially astute. It’s the type of cod-intellectual rambling that is meant to make its author sound erudite and cultivated, but which in reality makes them sound asinine instead. Gainsbourg gives himself a lot of these meandering speeches – and not one sounds convincing.

The performances suffer as a result, with Gainsbourg appearing disinterested in his own movie and prowling around in scenes as if he can’t quite decide which mark he should be hitting. He continually grabs and paws at his daughter, and wears a black glove on his right hand to denote his injury from the car crash. Alas, this gloved hand is used more as an affectation as Gainsbourg waves it around to indicate all sorts of feelings that he can’t clarify through speech or expression. In the end, it’s a lazy, semi-committed performance that soon becomes boring to watch. As for Charlotte, she provides emotional responses to Stanley’s behaviour that match the affected way in which he behaves, but which prove too wayward and inconsistent for comfort. There are glimpses of the slightly removed acting style that has stood her in good stead in the years since, but here she’s pretty much a puppet being moved around at will by her father.

Curious viewers, or fans of Gainsbourg pére et fille, will find no one to sympathise with (or recognise), and even less to engage with beyond a handful of gratuitous scenes of female nudity. The ending is abrupt and unrewarding given all that’s gone before, but at least it brings to a close a tale that manages, with considerable ease, to be both tawdry and pretentious.

Rating: 2/10 – sometimes a movie is just a dud and that’s all there is to it, and Charlotte for Ever is the movie that proves the rule; with only Gainsbourg’s disco-themed score to recommend it, this sad, alienating movie shows him not at the peak of his powers (which were considerable) but declining badly – and seemingly unconcerned.

NOTE: The “trailer” is more of a promo video for the song that plays over the opening credits (and at various times during the movie).