Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

2 out of 5 stars
Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Graphic novelist turned director Joann Sfar abstains from the usual musical biopic beats of rise, fall and redemption in his film about legendary singer, songwriter and scoundrel Serge Gainsbourg, preferring to skim through an epic personal life he incorrectly assumes we already know by heart. Previously unmentioned offspring suddenly appear onscreen to be neglected by their indecorous daddy, while the musician's women, some at least as famous as he, flutter through like glamorous guests at a debaucherous party, arriving and departing abruptly. Gainsbourg---played with commendable charisma by Eric Elmosnino---is lauded here less for his musical talent than his gift for self-invention; his greatest accomplishment, apparently, was being a Jewish boy who hid in occupied France and later created a persona born out of self-loathing and ambition. 

This womanizing caricature with an exaggerated nose appears onscreen like a living cartoon in Gainsbourg's biggest and least successful bit of whimsy, a personification of its subject's id prodding him into his most tiresomely dissolute behavior. Despite the attention the film pays to the divide between the man as the ungainly, loving second-gen immigrant versus the boozy provocateur, it's not a portrait of much psychological depth. Gainsbourg may be seen at his most self-defeating, but it's only in glimpses of his muted triumphs---as when he composes "Je t'aime... moi non plus" while cavorting with a nude Brigitte Bardot (Casta)---that the film exemplifies the heroism it assigns to its subject.

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By: Alison Willmore



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