Review by Jack Foley
FRENCH comic book artist Joann Sfar has never tried to hide the fact that he worships Serge Gainsbourg.
As a teenager, he travelled to Paris to meet his idol, only to be thwarted by Gainsbourg’s untimely death a month later. It’s little wonder, then, that he leapt at the chance to direct a biopic on the legend… albeit one that steadfastly refuses to adopt the traditional approach.
Rather, Sfar has delivered an imaginative take on one of the most provocative and controversial artists of his generation that contains echoes of Fellini, Guillermo del Toro and Michel Gondry, as well as his own inimitable comic book style (it is, after all, based on his own graphic novel).
Unfolding in non-linear form, Gainsbourg therefore offers viewers an enchanting, and often surreal, glimpse at his early life, from growing up in 1940s Nazi-occupied Paris, through his successful song-writing years in the 1960s until his death in 1991.
It includes several of his most notable relationships with the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, as well as the stories behind some of his most memorable songs (including, of course, Je t’aime).
Inhabiting the all-important central role, Eric Elmosnino is amazing… channelling the singer’s arrogance, self-confidence and eccentricity to marvellous effect and remaining an utterly mesmerising presence to be around.
But he’s ably supported at various points by the likes of Laetitia Casta, smouldering as Bardot, the late Lucy Gordon, sympathetic as Birkin, and Doug Jones, suitably horrific as the vampiric puppet alter-ego, Gainsbarre, who hovers over Serge’s every move.
Sfar, too, deserves credit for embellishing the movie with so many creative flourishes (from the self-drawn animation that marks the opening credits to the various flights of fancy) without ever losing sense of the story or its people.
His depiction of Gainsbourg isn’t completely rose-tinted either, showing the flaws of the man, as well as his self-deprecating sense of humour.
True, Gainsbourg may not offer a definitive history of the performer, but it captures the essence of a man who was, by his own nature, elusive and continually evolving.
As such, it’s a fascinating and often inspiring insight into one of the world’s true originals: a colourful character whose legacy and (even) mystery will only be fuelled by the presence of this movie.
Sfar deserves maximum credit for turning what could have become a difficult project into one of the most enjoyable and inventive biopics of recent years. And perhaps the biggest compliment lies in the fact that his movie can be enjoyed by everyone: whether fans of Gainsbourg or not.
As such, Sfar emerges as a major new film-making talent in his own right.
In French, with subtitles.
Running time: 130mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: January 10, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read the review
- Joann Sfar interview
- Gainsbourg Photo Gallery