Beyond her success as a singer — not blockbuster by any means, but attracting a loyal fan base around the world — Birkin had a thriving career as an actress, communicating a similar vibe onscreen as she did in music: a natural, unadorned beauty; a seemingly nonchalant demeanor, camouflaging a melancholy core.
In 1969, the year that “Slogan” came out, Birkin had a supporting role in Jacques Deray’s scorching, now cult thriller “La Piscine” alongside Alain Delon and Romy Schneider. With “La Piscine,” and popular comedies like “La Moutarde Me Monte au Nez!” (1974) and “La Course à l’Échalote” (1975), she could have continued to mine her gamine charm and cute accent for a comfortable if predictable acting career. But in typical Birkin fashion, she made an abrupt stylistic U-turn by starring in Gainsbourg’s provocative debut feature “Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus” (1976), in which she portrayed an androgynous waitress who has a rather complicated relationship with a gay man played by Joe Dallesandro, the Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey regular.
For much of the 1970s and early ’80s, Birkin alternated between making Gainsbourg records and appearing in mainstream movies, including “Death on the Nile” (1978), which featured the kind of international star buffet that blockbuster movies of the time ate up: Her co-stars included Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, David Niven, Mia Farrow and Angela Lansbury.
Throwing yet another twist into her career is that after Gainsbourg, Birkin was in a relationship with the uncompromising filmmaker Jacques Doillon. In 1984, she starred in his brutally intense, fever-pitch movie “La Pirate” as Alma, who is torn between her husband (played by Birkin’s own brother, Andrew) and a woman (Maruschka Detmers). It felt like a new Jane Birkin, inhabiting her physicality in a way that was almost dangerously unrestrained — and it earned her the first of three César Award nominations.
The next year, she appeared in a Marivaux play directed by the influential Patrice Chéreau at his Nanterre theater. Despite her trepidation, her performance was a success, and Birkin continued to appear onstage, alternating, as was her wont, between boulevard fare and Euripides.