French singer Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino), a child in 1940s Nazi-occupied Paris, achieves a successful song-writing career in the 1960s, his notorious 1969 duet with Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon), 'Je t'aime... moi non plus' gaining him international attention. His high-profile liaisons with the likes of Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon) and Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), continue to fuel the image of a wild, poetic artist. He dies in 1991 at the age of 62.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Comic book artist Joann Sfar strides fearlessly from his drawing studio into the film studio with the bravura of the naïve, ignorant of the rules that apply to this new medium, This is both a good thing - a fresh take and abandonment of rules - and a bad thing; the insufficient control over the medium. But then Serge Gainsbourg was no respecter of rules, nor did lack of artistic control ever worry him. For his many fans, though (mostly in France) the picture of a strange and isolated soul raging against the unknowable forces of the universe is no doubt music to their ears.
If, like me, you are underwhelmed by the Gainsbourg oeuvre, you may find this film interesting - but heavy going. Yet it has many bright ideas and catchy moments - probably like the man himself. It also boasts some fine, brave performances, notably Eric Elmosnino as Gainsbourg, Lucy Gordon as Jane Berkin and Laetitia Casta as Brigitte Bardot. It's often a surreal journey, and Sfar treats film as he treats his drawing board. Like cartoon frames, Sfar creates sequences that are not joined by any other link than the viewer's imagination; we have to fill in the missing bits, moving from frame to frame - albeit in this case each frame is a sequence of moving images.
Best described perhaps as portrait of the artist as a tragic chain smoking poet, the film stakes a lot on the physicalisation of his alter ego, first as an oversize balloon-like face on legs, later as a puppet -like creature with exaggerated nose and fingers. This alter ego (emphasising his Jewishness) follows Gainsbourg intermittently, showing up haphazardly at various moments, admonishing or encouraging him.
A great admirer of Gainsbourg since his youth, Sfar says in his notes on the production that the film is "very faithful to his life but it won't be a biopic. Paris is like a character in the film. We discover all sorts of nooks and underground worlds as we follow Gainsbourg's footsteps." He also says he wants Gainsbourg's heirs to be proud of it, which explains why the blemishes are under-exposed and the poetic soul of the artist is celebrated.
"It skips lightly over the serial womanising and the misogyny, the family breakdowns and heartbreaks, the sleazy feature films, the unsavoury stunts and embarrassingly drunken performances, all too familiar to French television viewers," as BFI's Sight & Sound puts it, and they know Gainsbourg better than I. But Sfar isn't interested in any of that; he just adores the Gainsbourg image, barefoot, angry, a confused artist trying to be great. Trying too hard perhaps.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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CAST: Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Doug Jones, Anna Mouglalis, Mylène Jampanoï, Sara Forestier, Kacey Mottet Klein, Razvan Vazilescu, Yolande Moreau
PRODUCER: Marc Du Pontavice
DIRECTOR: Joann Sfar
SCRIPT: Joann Sfar (graphic novel by Sfar)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillaume Schiffman
EDITOR: Maryline Monthieux
MUSIC: Olivier Daviaud
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 14, 2010