Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

I'll 'fess up to my pop cultural ignorance by admitting what little I knew of Serge Gainsbourg, before seeing Joann Sfar's film, consisted of two points: he was the father of actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, and he wrote, produced and performed the sexy '60s pop hit, Je T'aime. Sfar's Gainsbourg, a bio-pic of sorts, relies heavily on the audiences presumed knowledge of the subject (why else would he not include a timeline?) but I found myself enjoying this look at the life of a troubled artist regardless.

The film has been described as a 'fairytale' and it was supposedly Sfar's surreal treatment (he hails from animation) of the subject which apparently led the Gainsbourg estate, understandably protective of the man's reputation, to agree to be involved. Even more interestingly, Sfar had originally cast Charlotte Gainsbourg to play her father but for whatever reason, that experiment didn't play out.

Eric Elmosnino, who landed the role Serge Gainsbourg, does a fine job and closely resembles the man, big ears, shaggy appearance and all. Sfar subtly suggests that Gainsbourg was self conscious about his looks as a result of exposure to anti-Semitic propaganda as a child in Nazi-occupied Paris. The film's clever conceit is to have a larger-than-life puppet version of Gainsbourg, with enlarged features, accompany him throughout his life.

Ironically, while the puppet is 'ugly', he is the alter ego encouraging Gainsbourg to pursue his musical ambitions, be adventurous and take risks. Oh, and cheat on his wife and walkout on his children; the film doesn't skimp on the unappealing aspects of its central character, notably the womanising. Not that Gainsbourg's dalliances with Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis) and, more vivdly, with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), are painted as anything less than fun.

But it's when he meets, falls for and marries Brit actress, Jane Berkin (Lucy Gordon), mother of Charlotte, that Gainsbourg enjoys both domestic stability and a creative flourish, including the recording of Je T'aime. A sad coda to the film is that Gordon committed suicide not long after the film completed production.

Fans and admirers of Serge Gainsbourg will know better than I if Gainsbourg does justice to both the man or the myth, filling in gaps and shedding light into hitherto unknown dark corners. But for the uninitiated like me, it's an enjoyable introduction. Tre bien.

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