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Film Review: 'Gainsbourg'

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 9, 2011
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Who was Serge Gainsbourg? Clueless myself, I was surprised to discover that he was a huge star in ’60s/’70s French culture. A provocative and gifted musician, Gainsbourg was also known for his high-profile love life.

In the new film “Gainsbourg,” we meet him as a precocious young lad who, at an early age, had the art of schmoozing glamorous women down to an exact science. Growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris as a Jew didn’t seem to put a damper on his artistic prowess. In fact, it helped him create an imaginary alter ego in the form of a giant puppet that was always getting him into sordid scrapes.

But Gainsbourg always managed to come out on top ... on top of such celebrated beauties as Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon) and Juliette Gréco (Anna Mouglalis), just to name a few. He recorded his most famous work, “Je t’aime” with Birkin — it was so risqué it was banned by the Vatican. He became the guy who rode the wave of bad press to big success.

“Gainsbourg” is a trippy film chock-full of wondrous animation, fantasy and musings by the less-than-handsome chanteur. Eric Elmosnino (who looks like a cross between Jean-Paul Belmondo and Javier Bardem) portrays the hedonistic Gainsbourg with such a lack of gusto, it radiates reality. One can’t help but wonder if Elmosnino didn’t self-destruct while making the film. There was not a single shot in which he didn’t have a Gitanes between his lips or fingers. Incessant smoking had to have been the cause of Gainsbourg’s early death from a heart attack at 62.

Director Joann Sfar’s biopic seems, at times, over indulgent, but I surmise it was purposeful to work in tandem with Gainsbourg’s personality. Sfar’s background as a comic book artist and musician gives the film a surrealist feel and look; it’s fun to watch.

Gainsbourg was a bad boy who made it big time. He became ubër controversial when he recorded a reggae version of France’s national anthem, “La Marseillais.” The right wing party didn’t get it, and riots ensued. Gainsbourg got it. He was hip, cool and outrageously scandalous. “Gainsbourg” is an unconventional film about an unconventional life. 


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