Director: Joann Sfar
Writers: Joann Sfar
Music: Various Artists
Principal cast: Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta and Razvan Vasilescu
Release date: 30th July 2010 (on general release).
A romantic and sometimes often dark overview of the life of Gallic singer/songwriter/poetic Serge Gainsbourg (Elmosnino). Shar’s film biography covers the period from his Jewish upbringing during the Second World War to his fame as a brooding singer/composer during the baby boom years.
To the French, Serge Gainsbourg is a national treasure (although to the casual listener in the British Isles he will be best known as the French guy in the overtly erotic and scandalous sixties pop song Je T'Aime Moi Non Plus) and indeed director Sfar has set out to paint an image of his hero as an anti-authoritarian, womanising, bohemian blessed with musical and poetic talent in abundance.
In casting Elmosnino, the director has not only found an actor with class and depth, but someone who is an unbelievable dead-ringer for his subject.
Sfar breaks from the tradition of music biographies to introduce Gainsbourg’s conscience as a Lucifer type figure, often tempting Gainsbourg into infidelity and what is not necessarily in his interests. Here, Gainsbourg refers to his alter ego as “His Mug”; the character is brilliantly designed as an exaggerated image of himself (nose, ears and elongated fingers) and bears a close resemblance to the character creations of Del Torro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).
Indeed, complete with some creative animation during the opening credits and some surreal musical moments during Gainsbourg’s childhood in occupied France, the film sets up it’s character brilliantly and promises to be a different kind of biopic.
We follow Gainsbourg during the post wars years of the fifties through to the seventies and his raise to fame in France as a producer of brooding, dark, romantic pop songs and his much publicised love affairs and conquests (including Brigitte Bardot).
At times the film jumps forward between periods of his life with no explanation of the intervening periods (women simply come and go). Indeed the one love of Gainsbourg’s life who is given depth of character is that of sixties actress/model Jane Birkin (Gordon), who struggles to hold a family unit together as Gainsbourg comes off the rails.
Herein, lies the problem of the film – you feel like you are watching somebody’s CV in motion as an itinerary of love affairs and beauties pass by, but the motivations of those around Gainsbourg are never really examined.
Indeed the creative element apparent during the first half of the film eventually gives way to the clichÃ©s of recent music biopics and eventually the film just trails off to what some may find as an unsatisfactory ending.
However, the music is wonderful throughout and the film should only act as an incentive to check out some of the best French popular music of that era.
After a creative first hour combining biography and animation, Sfar’s film eventually succumbs to standard biopic clichÃ©s. However, the film does have it moments and Gainsbourg (Vie hÃ©roÃ¯que) is still a great introduction to the music of the man.