PARIS — A rainy morning cleared up as crowds began to line the streets around Paris’ Saint-Roch Church for a service to honor the late singer, actress and Hermès handbag namesake Jane Birkin, who died July 16.
Hundreds of fans gathered to watch the ceremony on a large screen erected outside of the church, with onlookers treated to a selection of Birkin’s songs before the ceremony started. Security was tight, due to the presence of France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron and Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak.
Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni; Vanessa Paradis; Maïwenn; Sandrine Kiberlain; Carole Bouquet; Charlotte Rampling, and Anthony Vaccarello were among the attendees from the film and fashion worlds who filed into the 17th century church.
An audible gasp went up in the audience as daughters Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon emerged carrying their mother’s casket on their shoulders up the steep steps of the building.
The sisters carried the casket to their mother’s 1983 song, “Fuir le bonheur de peur qu’il ne se sauve” (“Running away from happiness lest it run away”). White flowers lined the steps, with a ribbon reading “Our tears will not be able to change anything.”
Still, it was a teary, emotional service for the private invitees and public alike, with Gainsbourg taking to the pulpit for a short speech during which she choked up. “I see all your souls in pain without her,” she said. “I can already see the void she has left in us. She is my mother, she is our mother,” she continued of the icon, concluding with the lyrics of “Jane B.,” a song written by her father Serge Gainsbourg.
Doillon followed her elder sister to the microphone, sharing several anecdotes and adventures she shared with Birkin, Gainsbourg and late sister Kate Barry as a child. Doillon recounted a road trip to Death Valley in the U.S., or times sleeping in a tent or on the beach in various locations; a time her mother accidentally threw a diamond ring into the trash when they were vacationing in Brittany; recounting her reading P.G. Wodehouse as well as Birkin’s work in a besieged Sarajevo during the country’s civil war as she increasingly used her celebrity for political causes.
“There was you, scaring the hell out of me going to Sarajevo under the bombs because you said I’d be ashamed later that my mother didn’t do anything,” Doillon said.
“Thank you for all these adventures, thank you for not having been ordinary, reasonable or docile. The world of tomorrow, very peaceful and reasoned, it already upsets me,” Doillon said.
Writer Olivier Rolin, whom Birkin met during those days in Sarajevo and later had a long-term relationship with, also spoke. “In the last few days I have been able to name the feeling that I felt for Jane, it is admiration,” he said. “She was irresistible, even in anger. Everything about her was light, elegant, graceful, musical.”
“She is someone very benevolent, very attached to others,” Rampling told BFMTV after the ceremony. “She has an extraordinary generosity of spirit.”
As the ceremony came to a close the audience assembled outside erupted into song and loud applause. Malak commented that the applause could be heard inside the church. “It was magnificent. It was the most beautiful farewell that we could give her,” she remarked to BFMTV.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid homage to Birkin on Twitter. “Because she embodied freedom, because she sang the most beautiful words of our language, Jane Birkin was a French icon,” he wrote following her death.
The casket left the church to “La Javanaise,” another Serge Gainsbourg song. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Doillon rode in a hearse with their mother, but stopped as they passed to roll down the windows to wave and say thank you to the assembled crowds.
Birkin was moved to the cemetery of Montparnasse, in the south of Paris, where she will be buried next to Serge Gainsbourg and her daughter Kate Barry, who passed away in 2013.