Serge Gainsbourg’s Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus, the iconic singer-songwriter’s 1976 directorial debut, is on the surface the story of a love triangle. But nothing about this film is conventional. It’s set in an almost postapocalyptic wasteland that’s supposed to be somewhere in the American Midwest, if the signage and the locals’ penchant for fractious roller derbies is to be believed. (There’s even a visual joke that seems to riff on John Boorman’s Deliverance.) Two sides of the triangle are gay garbagemen, while the third is a boyish truck stop waitress. And Gérard Depardieu puts in a glorified cameo as an amorous hayseed who’s just a little too much into his horse.
What the film is really about is twofold. On the one hand, it offers a nuanced examination of the fluidity of sexual identity, depicting a world where the laws of desire seem to operate with absolute capriciousness. And, interrelatedly, it’s an unabashed celebration of the physical expression of lovemaking. Gainsbourg, ever the provocateur, chooses here the almost taboo topic of heterosexual anal sex. The only other film of the period to broach this particular territory would be Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. There, though, the infamous butter scene is an expression of sexual aggression and domination. In Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus, it’s a gesture of physical connection and mutual gratification that flagrantly defies what’s considered natural and civilized.
When Krassky (Joe Dallesandro) meets Johnny (Jane Birkin), he first glimpses her from behind, and mistakes her for a boy. But his instantaneous attraction to her remains undiminished even when she turns around. Krassky’s behavior soon draws the ire of his partner, Padovan (Hugues Quester), who takes every opportunity to malign Johnny and impugn Krassky’s burgeoning relationship with her. In these moments, the film takes on a distinctly Shakespearean quality, as Padovan suggests the Iago to Krassky’s Othello.
Krassky and Johnny’s attempts to consummate their ill-starred love leaven the aura of tragedy with some well-delivered comedy, since they’re repeatedly tossed out of one flophouse after another owing to Johnny’s ear-piercing screams upon being penetrated. Gainsbourg’s worldview is certainly not without its relentlessly down-market sense of humor. Farts and other bodily functions, the asperities of almost ritualistic abuse, all play a role in the film. Here, too, there’s a link to Shakespeare, with a layer of bawdy raunch that’s fit to split the ears of the groundlings. It’s also the earthy, carnivalesque humor of Rabelais, meant to praise the body at the expense of the head, placing physical indulgence and desire ahead of pale reason.
Amid a wasteland of buzzing flies and burnt-out wrecks, it seems somehow poetically apt that Krassky and Johnny manage to make love in the bed of his garbage truck. When the world is running down, as Gordon Sumner once put it, you make the best of what’s still around. Tellingly, Johnny finally gets past the shrieking stage and achieves moans of actual pleasure. Later in Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus, Krassky nails it down, thematically speaking, when he tells her: “Whichever side I take you from, as long as we’re linked, and we come together, that’s love.” Trouble is, the world and all-too-human jealousy see fit to intrude.
But the ultimate downfall of the relationship doesn’t come from the outside. It comes from a failure of imagination, the inability to exist without taxonomies that impose a fixed identity on things. At one point, Johnny informs Krassky that she is a boy, in an imaginative suspension of stereotypical gender relations. Just as, on another occasion, she rejects her tomboy attire for a frilly pink dress and makeup, the ultimate “uniform” of femininity. When Padovan attempts to smother her with a plastic sack, she urges Krassky to beat him to a pulp. His refusal prompts her to turn on him. She slaps his face and calls him a “fag,” thus reducing him to a single identity, shutting him back up in the box of what’s normative. This betrayal, as much as his obvious sympathy for Padovan’s clearly distraught state, signals the end of their relationship.
2.33GB | 1 h 27 min | 960×576 | mkv