The double life of Irène Jacob. Her performances in the films of Krzysztof Kieślowski are indelible in the modern cinema, and her grace and intelligence have persisted in the work – all too little of it – that I have been able to see since. I have known her only as an actress, so I was startled to learn that she would appear at French Institute Alliance Française as the singer in a jazz performance with her brother Francis Jacob. The occasion is a CD that will be officially released at Joe’s Pub on May 3, but I was lucky to have attended this preview, after which she and the musicians mingled easily with the crowd in the Tinker Auditorium, which is more an intimate café than a theatre.
The concert was lovely, and (although Jacob is Swiss by birth) quintessentially French, with songs based on the philosophy of Deuleuze and full of the quotidian moments at which francophone artists, writers, and filmmakers excel. Jacob slides imperceptibly from talk to song, monologue moving effortlessly into melody, her voice soft with tiny, captivatingly thoughtful inflections, and her gestures arising without guile and always, when they are large, rife with clarity. There was such a moment when, prefacing a song about the Parisian subway, she held her right hand flat in the air, at eye level to the right of her face, and transformed it into the face of another passenger, just inches from her own, and one saw the crowded car and the jostled riders, as though in a movie.
Jacob is a great actress, and a modest, seemingly egoless presence, so evidently comfortable in her own existence as to impart to the audience something of what it means to “be” in the world and in one’s own body. Two children – hers? – rushed up to embrace her after the last song, which somehow said it all. The concert just ended had been a string of meaningful moments pulled from a life that came before and would continue after.