The rare and wondrous film “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus” is screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center January 30 at 6:30 pm as part of the “Jane and Charlotte Forever” program. Serge Gainsbourg, who was then Jane Birkin’s partner (and Charlotte’s father), made his directorial debut with the film in 1975.
Joe Dallesandro, who will be in attendance at the screening, stars as Krassky, a gay man who drives a garbage truck with his partner Padovan (Hughes Quester). They enter a truck stop where Krassky becomes attracted to Johnny (Birkin), who looks more like a boy than a woman. Padovan becomes jealous of Krassky and Johnny’s budding relationship. Krassky, however, finds he can only be aroused for sex with Johnny by fucking her from behind. Their efforts at lovemaking involve her screaming so loudly that they can only fuck in peace on the back of his trash truck.
“Je T’aime Mon Non Plus” offers many pleasures, from a cameo by Gerard Depardieu as a gay man who rides a white horse (and refuses to fuck Padovan as he admits, it could send him to the hospital) to a minute-long circular pan of bare-assed Krassky and Johnny floating on an inner tube in a river.
In a recent phone interview, Dallesandro chatted about making “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus,” Andy Warhol, and his acting career.
How did you come to make this film and play Krassky? What appealed to you about this project?
I think it was my meeting with Serge and the whole idea of the story. I thought it was a story that was before its time. I thought it would open people’s minds and show them what was happening in the world. But people don’t see it that way. Now it’s more important than ever before. It’s only been a few years that attitudes towards sexuality have changed.
The film was ahead of its time, especially with is depiction of sexuality and gender roles. Did it seem daring, even after all the Warhol films?
c Andy shot movies that were 24-hours long. They cut a section out and called it “Loves of Ondine,” and that opened me up to understanding that films were a lot different than I thought they were. I just followed the direction and continued on after I left [Warhol]. I gained enough confidence to do things with other people. “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus” was meant to be “acting.” It was a story, not a porn movie. I loved both Serge and Jane very much.
You appear nude in the film—your ass is seen in close-up, and full frontal from more of a distance. You have a reputation for being exposed on camera, in the Warhol films as well as when you modeled for Bob Mizer. Can you talk about your screen nudity?
I was 15-16 when I posed for Mizer. I did 2-3 sittings and none of them came out until years later, after my Warhol career established itself firmly, with “Flesh” “Trash” and “Heat.” The Mizer photos didn’t have any popularity until I had a career well developed, and then they jumped on the bandwagon. As for nudity, I was never comfortable with it. It was always an interaction with Paul [Morrissey, who directed “Flesh,” “Trash” and “Heat,”] as to why the nudity was necessary. He always got his way. He told me these films would show in museums because they were “Warhol” films. For whatever reason, I chose to believe him, and why I did the scenes I did. I wasn’t comfortable being nude. After it was done, I was comfortable with it, but during the shooting and preparing I was never comfortable.
How did you approach the character of Krassky?
By the time I got around to doing the film, I was more comfortable with myself and my acting, so I might have looked at things differently. I felt I was giving more of a performance than ever before. I was being Krassky, rather than being Joe.
“Je T’aime Moi Non Plus” is not very well known, but it is said to be one of your personal favorite films. Why?
I think it was from working with such good people. Serge gave me a lot of direction, which didn’t happen on the films I did before. Usually, a director would let me just do what I did. Serge explained what he was looking for and asked me to give more. I was doing my role in English—I don’t speak French at all—and that was not Serge’s first language. But he was able to communicate what he wanted to see from me. For me, that was a first.
What can you say about working with Warhol and Morrissey? Do you look back on that time and think, “I still can’t believe it”?
I don’t look at my work that much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything I’ve done more than once. When you talk about a scene, or the Warhol films, I can’t remember how I did it. When they did a retrospective of my work in San Francisco, and kids were quoting the lines from my movies, I stood in awe. “Why would you learn that?” It’s a Warhol film, not “I’ll be back!”
The European phase of your career began with Warhol films “Flesh for Frankenstein” and “Blood for Dracula” and then alternated art films like “Black Moon” by Louis Malle, with exploitation pictures like “Madness” (aka “Vacanze per un massacro”)? What observations do you have about working abroad?
The Italian films were more shoot-‘em-ups. My manager told me that he didn’t want to work with artists, so I did bad-boy gangster type films. Then that I should stay with art-house directors in France, so I worked with Louis Malle, Jacques Rivette, and Serge…
When you returned to America you had a career in Hollywood, making films like “The Cotton Club,” “Sunset” and indies, like John Waters’ “Cry Baby” as well as Steven Soderbergh’s “The Limey.” Did you want a career as a character actor?
I don’t know what I was trying to do. I came back to America and was surprised I was able to work here. I thought I had to come back with a big success from Europe, and I thought the Warhol films prevented me from working here. But that was not the truth. I never tried. I had to let people know I was back, so I did some popular TV shows. Then people knew I was back and alive, and I was offered smaller roles in different things. They were fun to do.
In addition to working with some incredible filmmakers, you have been immortalized in a Lou Reed song; the album cover for “Sticky Fingers;” the subject of books (“Little Joe Superstar) and a fine documentary, “Little Joe.” What’s next for Joe Dallesandro? Or what do you see as your legacy?
I’m not too far from leaving this world, so not sure what’s next. I might do a few more things before I go. I don’t know. Who knows what’s next? I’ve always done what’s put in front of me. I’m very proud of the Warhol films. They sure were different. I was interested that so many people showed up to watch these films. It was something that was done when I was very, very young. For someone who had not planned a career as an actor, and had not studied for a career in acting, I was lucky to do them and establish myself as an actor who was able to improvise scene and be better at it than people would think.
What do you see as the secret to your success? Was it Warhol?
I’ve been able to follow my career by what people write about me and say about me. You could write a more interesting interview if you made it up. I got that from Andy. He told people to “make it up” because he hardly ever talked. I thought that was great. He had things he could talk to people about, but he didn’t. We never had much of a conversation. I never felt Andy knew much about me. He’d come to the set and watch me perform, or was behind the camera a couple of times, and that was fun.