Sixties icon Birkin to star in movie autobiography

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The Independent Culture

She was the middle-class British girl from London whose relationship with Serge Gainsbourg, a singer and poet who defined Gauloises-chic, ensured her singular status in France.

Now, more than three decades after they caused a scandal when they sang "Je t'aime ... moi non plus," together and 15 years after Gainsbourg's death, Jane Birkin is to make her own film autobiography.

Now aged 60, Birkin, who has always been more famous in her adopted country than in her native Britain, will write, direct and star as herself in the autobiographical Boxes. She is believed to have cast friends and relatives for roles in the film, which will start shooting next month.

Friends suggested it was the approach of her 60th birthday last December that led her to conceive the project, which is set to be announced this week to coincide with the Cannes Film Festival. The film will be dramatised as chapters or "boxes" in the actress-singer's life, and will incorporate the pivotal moments of her 40-year career.

While Birkin's life has been colourful, some critics might argue that it is debatable whether she merits a film biopic, usually reserved for "heavyweight" Hollywood entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin, played by Robert Downey Jnr in Chaplin, and Howard Hughes, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator. Both left a lasting mark on the film industry.

Birkin, whose mother was an actress and father a Royal Navy commander, emerged as an actress during the London of the swinging Sixties, first finding fame as a nude model in the film Blow Up in 1967. She went to France to audition for the female lead in Slogan and, in spite of not speaking French, got the part. It is on the set of this film that she met Gainsbourg in 1968, after separating from her husband, John Barry, the composer who wrote the musical scores for the James Bond movies.

Although she had a successful career as a singer and actress - including a role as Brigitte Bardot's lesbian lover in Don Juan in 1973 - Birkin's fame in France stems from her relationship with Gainsbourg. A French phenomenon, whose music crossed many genres and defied catergorisation, he was also a poet and occasional film director.

In 1969, she and Gainsbourg released "Je t'aime ... moi non plus" [I love you ... me neither], which caused a scandal for its explicitness. It was banned on radio stations in Italy, Sweden, Spain and Britain, before becoming a huge commercial success across Europe.

Six years later, she appeared in her husband's first film, of the same name, which again created a stir for its frank examination of sexual ambiguity. Even after she split from Gainsbourg in 1980, he completed three more albums for her.

The couple attracted controversy not only with their on-screen projects - including a bed scene between Gainsbourg and the couple's daughter, Charlotte, in a film about incest - but their tempestuous relationship was documented on the gossip pages of newspapers in France and Britain. In one incident Birkin threw herself into the Seine after a raging fight.

Towards the end of his life, Gainsbourg became renowed for usually being drunk in public and was normally unshaven and forever with a cigarette between his fingers. When he died in 1991 at the age of 62, much of Paris came to a standstill for his funeral. President François Mitterand said of him: "He was our Baudelaire.''

In recognition of her popularity on both sides of the Channel, Birkin has been appointed an OBE for her services to acting in Britain and awarded the Ordre National du Mérite in France.

Pet projects of the stars

* Kevin Costner has often produced his own films but critics have questioned whether works such as Waterworld were not just an extension of his ego.

* Mel Gibson, a strict Catholic, co-wrote, directed and produced The Passion of the Christ in 2004, dramatising the crucifixion. Gibson denied his pet project was anti-Semitic.

* Kenneth Branagh directed, produced and starred in the 1992 film Peter's Friends, with a cast of friends and his then wife, Emma Thompson. It was criticised, perhaps unfairly, as a reflection of Branagh's own smugness.

* Sylvester Stallone last year began directing his own script about the life of Edgar Allen Poe, which he wrote in 2002.

* In 8 Mile (2002) the rapper Eminem starred as himself, depicting his early years in a trailer park.

* Richard E Grant wrote and directed the semi-autobiographical Wah Wah, released this year, about his upbringing in Swaziland.