Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)
November 4th 2010 (Australian release date)
Dir: Joann Sfar
Will I lose a bit of street cred by admitting my lack of Gainsbourg knowledge prior to watching Sfar's directorial debut? What's that, I never had any street cred? Rightio then, on to the review.
This dramatic biography chronicles the life of French singer Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) through erratic glimpses; from a young boy in 1940s Nazi occupied Paris, through various lovers, including an affair with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), to his final days before his early death at age 62. Constantly hovering in the background is Gainsbourg's alter ego, Ugly Face, a human form with a puppet head, large nose, hands and ghoulishly long fingers; representing the depiction of Jews in Nazi propaganda. Much of the film wavers between reality and Gainsbourg's own thoughts and imagination, manifested through Ugly Face and various other techniques.
This is an impressive film, even more so when you consider this is director Joann Sfar's feature debut, he also wrote [and illustrated] the graphic novel and the adapted screenplay. But it's a strange film, and not just because it incorporates the imaginary into the real life. The film relies on some minimal knowledge of Gainsbourg's career if not his life; should you be in the same position as I was, jumping into this film with no prior knowledge, you may find yourself completely lost on more than one occasion. The film moves around almost incomprehensibly, when did he marry his first wife? Where did all these groupies come from? How did he meet Bardot? How many kids does he have now? All these questions, and many more, were raised during the occasionally draining 2 hour run time, which has apparently been cut back since its premiere.
This is obviously a passion project of Sfar's, his admiration of Gainsbourg as an artist is apparent from the opening titles. This is perhaps why the focus of the film seems to be on the art of both Gainsbourg, first his painting and then his music, and also the art of the film itself, using cartoons for the opening credits and puppets throughout the film. While the musical numbers are performed wonderfully and Eric Elmosnino as Gainsbourg is inspiring, the lack of traditional structure to this biopic is at once refreshing but also distracting.
A curious though uneven portrait of a quintessential French artist, his many loves and personalities. The style of this film will irritate many but there's much to take in and admire if you're willing to fill in some gaps yourself.
3.5 / 5