Published Sep 16, 2011To many, Serge Gainsbourg's music is just now being discovered via pretentious hipsters whose only knowledge of the multi-talented French musician is from their L'histoire de Melody Nelson LPs hung proudly on their walls. However, there's far more to this intriguing and self-loathing musician than meets the eye and director Joann Sfar demonstrates Gainsbourg's eccentricities brilliantly in his bizarre and peculiar biopic, based upon his graphic novel.
Before eventually becoming a drunken old fart who told Whitney Houston he wanted to fuck her on live television (which is unfortunately not re-enacted in the film), Gainsbourg spent his early childhood battling his Jewish background and private self-loathing, painting and being followed around by imaginary monsters in Nazi-occupied France.
The film drastically leaps into his early adult years, showing Gainsbourg (played brilliantly by Eric Elmosnino) as a struggling artist who moonlights as a piano player to support his painting career. It's not until Gainsbourg's "mug" (played by great character actor Doug Jones), a disturbing and imaginary caricature of the singer (who resembles "the Count" from Sesame Street), that Gainsbourg starts pursuing his successful music career and with that comes sin, women, drugs and illness. Like many other rise and fall biopics, Gainsbourg's inspiration and ambition definitely come at a price.
Joann Sfar's directorial debut definitely highlights Gainsbourg's most vivid and memorable moments in his career in an unconventional way. Fans will definitely get a kick from seeing Gainsbourg tricking then teenage French pop singer Frances Gall into singing a song about oral sex or his stay in Jamaica, where he received death threats for doing a reggae version of the French national anthem.
On the other hand, the film's greatest detriment is the lack of focus on the artist's personal life. Aside from his brief affair with a then married Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) and his turbulent marriage to Jane Birkin (played by the late Lucy Gordon), the film pays little attention to the other women who influenced his life and career, skipping years and relationships in Gainsbourg's life, making the film far too hyper-active, at times, to follow.
In spite of the jerky pace, true fans of Gainsbourg will find the biopic rich with riveting imagery symbolizing his hidden insecurities and self-loathing hidden beneath his apparent narcissism and will enjoy the soundtrack, which is full of some of Gainsbourg's legendary songs, such as "Initials B.B." and the controversial (at the time) "Je T'aime… mon non plus."
Whether you're a hipster pretending to be knowledgeable of Gainsbourg's music career or just somebody who wants to point out to friends that Gainsbourg's real-life daughter, Charlotte, played the actress who cut her clitoris off in Antichrist, Gainsbourg proves to be surreal and enjoyable viewing for all the right and wrong reasons. (eOne)