Gainsbourg (heroic life)

  • Joann Sfar
  • 2010

The French got accustomed to the Hollywood term ‘biopic’, short for ‘biographical picture’, following Olivier Dahan’s 2007 film La Vie En Rose which was inspired by the life of French singer Edith Piaf. Joann Sfar, author of comic strips, here makes his director’s debut with Gainsbourg and claims he did not want to direct a biopic.

He matched the name of his central figure to indicate Serge Gainsbourg would be handled like a hero. Comics and Greek mythology readers know that the heroes are the gods’ children when they mix with the human beings. Thus, in this movie you will not find Lucien Ginsburg’s detailed biography. He was born in Paris in 1928 and died in the same city 62 years later. From the cradle to the grave, Sfar has directed a fanciful story which looks like the reality only by some pointers: Gainsbourg’s songs, the image of the women whom he found on his road, his conflictual relationship with Judaism and his French identity. From “Le Poinconneur des Lilas” to “Love on the Beat”, from partners of his Bohemian life to his last wife Bambou, the director limits his labyrinth of tunes and known silhouettes to Boris Vian, Les freres Jacques, Juliette Greco and France Gall. To interpret Serge Gainsbourg, Joann Sfar uses an audacious and malefic double — a kind of Gainsbarre (Gainsbourg’s copy of a badly-shaved and drunk accursed poet nicknamed “La Gueule” or “the Mouth”) — chosing an alive puppet with big ears and disproportionate nails from his draftsman’s imagination.

A fanciful story which looks like the reality only by some pointers.

The interest and the charm of the film comes from this travelling companion: the terror which seizes Serge (as William Wilson in Edgar Poe) to have the strength to compose himself with this wished and hated alter ego. At the end of this terrible tale children are crazy about, we feel that Gainsbarre swallows Gainsbourg. He’s done for. The “heroism” suggested by the title means the efforts made for a long time to try to delay this moment before being devoured.

All this unrealistic whim, the childhood of Serge in his family and the meeting with Boris Vian, ends with Brigitte Bardot in a luxurious burst of an outstanding Laetitia Casta — she imitates Bardot without ever caricaturing her: she seems to lead the dogs, such a goddess, almost naked under her waders and her short panther coat.

After the Bardot tornado, Joann Sfar has some difficulties to hide what he had splendidly hidden from the beginning: a scenario made of successive sketches with Jane Birkin (the late-lamented Lucy Gordon), La “Marseillaise” (the French national anthem) and Bambou. Gainsbarre does not only seem to have swallowed Gainsbourg, but also, Sfar who is unable to cut short overlong scenes which fail to reach the core of their subject. However, the highlights of this biography is the meeting of a dedicated fan and his idol: the meeting of their two imaginations, and their clashes.

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