Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

gainsbourg film sceneThe quintessential rogue lover; Lucien Ginsburg was born the son of Jewish parents, in Paris, France, in 1928, but became best known to the world as the egocentric avant-pop-maestro and agent provocateur Serge Gainsbourg, enjoying a successful career that spanned from the late 50s through the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. Eric Elmosnino embraces the celebrated and controversial songwriter and delivers him to perfection in this excellent biopic from 2010, adapted from his own graphic novel by director Joann Sfar.

gainsbourg movie reviewLearning piano from his father and skirting down back cobblestoned alleys whilst Nazi troops marched by, Serge hungered for attention and romanced mischief. He created an alter ego, La Gueule (played on-screen to brilliant effect by mime extraordinaire Doug Jones), who would rear his “Ugly Face” throughout Serge’s conquests and misadventures. Ugly Face provided him with the inspiration and the provocation, the humiliation and the confrontation that would earn Gainsbourg accolades and heartache in equal measure; infamy, glamour and trouble par excellence.

Gainsbourg is a wry and playful portrait that never wallows, depicting the legend as a truly fallible human being, eager to please, yet loath to conform, never suffering fools gladly, but always an opportunist, smoking Gitane cigarettes like they’re going out of vogue, and bedding some of the most beautiful women ever to grace the City of Lights.

gainsbourg movie reviewHis first wife was sultry Elizabeth Levitsky (Deborah Grall), they divorced and he married another, but had a fleeting affair with the alluring and mysterious Juliette Gréco (Anna Mouglalis). Later he flirted with and courted voluptuous Bridget Bardot (LaetitiaCasta), wrote her songs, and fell head over heels, but the romance was short-lived. Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon, who committed suicide not long after the movie was completed), a slim, pretty English singer and actress living in Paris caught Serge’s eye. Together they had two children, one of whom is Charlotte Gainsbourg, the actress. His last partner was striking Caroline von Paulus, who went under the stage name of Bambou (MylèneJampanoï), whom he met at a nightclub when she was 21 and he was 52. She resisted his charms at first, but soon enough fell under his spell. She was with him until his death in 1991.

gainsbourg movie sceneWhat makes Gainsbourg so entertaining is the swift pace, the surreal rub, the playful tone, the bang-on superb performances, a delicious sense of humour, a slyly sensual wink, and the colourful cult of personality. Serge may not have looked like the matinee idol he pretended to be, but he exuded the pop star allure through his idiosyncratic songs, and he got his leg over time and time again, much to the frustration and exasperation of those around him.

Gainsbourg is for music lovers, Francophiles, pop culture freaks, hedonists, and cartoonists. And romantics. It’s essential viewing as a clever contrast to the world of modern manufactured bubblegum pop, fabricated fame, and fake plastic beauty. Gainsbourg is the antidote that whispers “I love you… me neither,” in your ear, chuckles, then pops the Champagne cork that sails through the blue smoke of a Gitane wafting up through the night air.

Gainsbourg film review by Bryn Tilly of