On my radar: Charlotte Gainsbourg’s cultural highlights

The actor and singer on Edgar Degas, a great documentary about Nina Simone, Budapest’s brilliant Turkish baths and Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes

The daughter of the English actor and singer Jane Birkin and the French musician Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte Gainsbourg was born in London in 1971 and raised in Paris. She was awarded the César award for most promising actress in 1986, and for best supporting actress in 2000. After roles including Jane Eyre (1996) and I’m Not There (2007), she starred in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (for which she won best actress at the 2009 Cannes film festival), Melancholia and Nymphomaniac. Her albums 5:55, IRM and Stage Whisper were released between 2006 and 2011. She now stars in Independence Day: Resurgence, out on Thursday.

1 | Art

Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty at MoMA, New York

degas a strange new beauty
Degas’s work on display in A Strange New Beauty at MoMA. Photograph: Andrew Toth/Getty Images

I loved this exhibition. It was Degas’s monotypes – a very interesting process of printing – mostly of women, prostitutes, who were willing to pose for him. But it could become very abstract, with the repetition; he was interested not in the drawing as a result but in the accumulation in his work of the same subject. It was very modern for his time. Then you have the other part – it’s very hard when you know that someone was such a horrible person in real life, and such an antisemite. It’s hard to avoid thinking about it and focus on the art. It’s the same with so many other people, like Céline. But it was really worth going.

2 | Documentary

What Happened, Miss Simone?

nina simone at the piano
Nina Simone: a reluctant singer. Photograph: David Redfern/Redferns

This was a recent documentary on Netflix. I knew all her songs, I just didn’t know her life. I didn’t know the background, the upbringing, and the fact she was a concert pianist. And that she went into singing really out of the blue, because a guy said: “If you want to continue in this piano-bar you’ll have to sing.” And so she forced herself. The documentary is very well made and you can just get into this very strange persona. She was not only likable, there was something so strong about her, and so desperate that you can hear it. Now I have a different perspective when I listen to her.

georges perec les choses

3 | Fiction

Les Choses by Georges Perec

I’ve just finished a book by Perec [Things: A Story of the Sixties]. I feel bad saying it’s not a wonderful book – it’s just that I’ve read other books by him that I preferred, like Je me souviens or La vie mode d’emploi, when I was in my 20s. He was very original. This one is a tiny book; it could nearly be an essay. But it does live with me so that means something. It was written in the 1960s and it’s about a young couple who struggle through life not understanding what their desires are. It’s talking about a different time, but I think the perspective on the book nowadays is interesting: with our society of owning stuff, it does have a real resonance.

4 | Place

The Rudas Turkish baths, Budapest

rudash baths budapest
The Rudas baths, Budapest: ‘The light is from another time.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

I stayed in Budapest for a month for work and I had this obsession with Turkish baths. This place is very old fashioned. Four days in the week it’s only for men, and you have one day when women can go – you can see all these different shapes and bodies and it’s so beautiful. You go from tepid water to warm to boiling hot, then you have the hamam where you can’t even move, it’s so hot. And then you go into glacial, icy temperatures. For me it was thrilling – to go through those extremes just blows your mind. It’s a nice place to think and even go through my lines. And the light is from another time.

5 | Cookbook

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

jerusalem by yotam ottolenghi
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem: great use of pomegranate. Photograph: handout/HANDOUT

Yvan [Attal] – we’re not married but I can call him my husband – was born in Israel, but he rediscovered Tel Aviv while he was shooting a film there recently, and he said the cooking scene there was incredible. So we went to a restaurant in Paris called Miznon, which is very special. I wanted to re-create this cauliflower recipe, and a friend recommended this book. I’m very into cookbooks, and this was my big discovery of the month. From the book I’ve done a fish stew with couscous, fried onion rice, and poached pears with cardamom pods. It was very good. I like that he uses pomegranate in a lot of his dishes.

6 | Film

Network (1976)

peter finch in sidney lumets network
Network: ‘The framing is interesting, the light beautiful and the acting spectacular.’ Photograph: Allstar/MGM

I’m ashamed to say I had never seen this before. It was recommended by Jim Carrey when we were shooting together – he said it was his favourite film. I was blown away by how modern it was, and the beauty that we sometimes forget in our films today. The framing is so interesting, the light beautiful and the acting spectacular. I’m always interested in recommendations. With Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum was always recommending films and they were always wonderful choices.

7 | TV series

The Jinx

robert durst the jinx
Robert Durst, subject of The Jinx: ‘You feel voyeuristic, awkward.’ Photograph: HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection

I still think about this. It’s one of those terrifying documentaries where you feel very voyeuristic watching it. It’s a series where you are totally hooked, but it’s real. It’s a story of a murderer who gets away with it, and it’s terrible because you get so close to him. The responsibility of the film-maker is quite immense in this film because he gets his subject arrested in the end. It’s incredibly thrilling – which is terrible, because when it has to do with real life, you feel awkward about it.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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