Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)
Great songs, beautiful girls, lovely costumes and an artist in a constant state of flux are emphasised in Joann Sfar’s imaginative, beautiful and suitably bizarre musing on the life of Serge Gainsbourg.
Starting off in conventional style with a young Gainsbourg (Kacey Mottet Klein) being forced to play the piano by a seemingly tyrannical father (Razvan Vasilescu), the action quickly jumps into the abstract when a giant animated puppet appears lying beside the young Jewish boy in his bed right as he’s being told about the Nazi threat.
This puppet caricature (actor Doug Jones hidden behind hooked nose and big-eared mask) is the devil inside the artist. He follows the chain-smoking artist everywhere as he embarks on a journey full of song, girls and permanent identity crisis. Eric Elmosnino plays Gainsbourg with a camp Gallic aplomb strangely reminiscent of Peter Sellers in Inspector Clouseau mode, flitting between humour, sadness, anger and one pin-up model to another.
First-time director Sfar is best known as a comic-book artist and his primary thesis is that it was the women in Gainsbourg’s life that inspired him most. There is a presumption of knowledge about Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis), Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), France Gall (Sara Forestier) and Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon, the British model who committed suicide just after the shoot wrapped and to whom the film is dedicated) as very little time is spent explaining who they are or where they came from. It’s Casta playing Bardot as sex kitten that makes the biggest impact, while Gordon does a fine job imitating the dulcet tones of Birkin.
Sfar is interested in what made Gainsbourg such a maverick performer. There are repeated flashbacks to his childhood. There are also similarities in the episodic structure to La Dolce Vita. However, when Sfar moves away from the abstract and into traditional biopic territory the movie falters, especially in the scenes that show his life post-Birkin. The doppelgänger puppet becomes an obstacle rather than a tool.
As for the music, the choices are inspired more often than they are obvious and this ambitious work is a great introduction to the crooner who died in 1991 aged 62.
Selected release from Fri 30 Jul.