23 Aug
A vague, self-indulgent portrait of a pop icon

Ah, Serge. The type of sex God only France could create: gangly, skinny, big nose, bulging eyes, and looking like a cross between Mr. Burns and Roman Polanski with a lit cigarette hanging from his puffy lips. Despite his crazy appearance, Serge Gainsbourg wooed Brigitte Bardot and wedded Jane Birkin and had women all over the planet swooning whenever he crooned his 1960s pop tunes. His swagger and confidence made him sexy as hell, and with the release of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, fans and newbies can get a glimpse into his personal life, and his art. He was talented and charismatic, yes, but heroic? Evidently director Joann Sfar thinks so…

Hit the Jump to continue reading “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” Screenshot Film Review by The Elf…

 “It’s as if the director is saying the details aren’t important – but they are…”

Sfar, a force in the “new wave” of comic book art, ventures into feature film territory for the first time with Gainsbourg. He obviously idolizes his subject — often to a fault. The film starts with Gainsbourg’s childhood in France, where he grew up the poor son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. His loving but stern father pushed him to play piano, but young Serge fell in love with painting and drawing above all else — maybe because he got to stare at naked female models in class, wooing them with his whimsical sketches and honing the powers of seduction he’d put to good use later on in life. Early on Gainsbourg is subjected to the anti-Semitism raging in Europe at the time, and he escapes his fear and pain by losing himself in drawing, and by creating imaginary alter egos that take the form of wacked-out, oversized puppets in the film. The puppets taunt and tease Serge into adulthood, but they’d work better in a Cirque Du Soleil act than in this film. They’re distracting and actually pretty annoying. Sure, Sfar comes from the world of comic books so it makes sense he would take chances visually and go a little nuts, but his puppets and animation feel showy and inorganic.

For people who know just the basic details of Gainsbourg’s life (his music, his affairs, the fact that his daughter is Charlotte Gainsbourg, etc) this film will be either a fun romp or a disappointing missed opportunity. People who know nothing of the man or his life will probably feel totally lost and confused to the point of annoyance. Sfar skips through Gainsbourg’s life as if he assumes everyone knows the details like he does. One minute Gainsbourg is married to a voluptuous brunette, the next minute he’s got an unnamed blonde wife and two kids. It’s as if the director is saying the details aren’t important — but they are.

This skipping around leaves us with a vague, self-indulgent portrait of a great artist. It’s hard not to compare this to La Vie en Rose, another film about a great French singer and personality (Edith Piaf) that captured the heart and soul of a person rather than scraping the surface. The performances here help the film. Eric Elmosnino as Gainsbourg is fun to watch; he won a Cesar for Best Actor for his work, and it’s clear why. Razvan Vasilescu as Gainsbourg’s father is especially charismatic — he steals every scene he’s in. The female roles basically bounce around and pout, but they’re pretty to look at. Surprisingly Sfar won a Cesar for Best First Film — maybe voters got so caught up in all the visual trickery they didn’t realize that the actual story was disjointed and thin. At the end of the day this is a film for hardcore fans of Serge Gainsbourg. But even hardcore fans might leave the theater feeling like their bug-eyed, pouty-lipped crooner got short shrift.

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life opens 8/31 in New York and 9/2 in Los Angeles

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