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Lucien Ginsburg, a rebellious French Jewish boy with a grotesque imagination, hates playing the piano like his father, a bar professional, and manages to be admitted to Montmartre Academy as painter, where he befriends an SS officer who helps him survive he occupation. After the war, he chooses to become a performing artist and adopts the stage name Serge Gainsbourg. His unorthodox songs bring him success, even his parents's approval, and lots of lovers, yet his marriages are all utter failures. Written by
The project was originally envisioned with Serge Gainsbourg's real life daughter, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg to play him in keeping with the film's surreal and fairytale-esque tone. Six months into rehearsals and preparation Gainsbourg pulled out telling director Joann Sfar, it was proving to emotionally painful and he would have to make his "beautiful film" without her. Sfar had always approached the film with her in mind and was ready to abort the project when fate lead him to Eric Elmosnino. See more »
The young Gainsbourg is shown drawing left-handed, but the adult Gainsbourg becomes right-handed. See more »
a complex work about France in the 20th century and about one of its major artists
Where does this amazing film come from? Who is Joann Sfar, a director I never heard about before? The easiest answer at hand was the wikipedia entry which tells us that Sfar is a well known comics author in the fabulous French-Belgian tradition. He is of Jewish origin, and his next film is an adaptation of one of his comics successes called The Rabbi's Cat.
And suddenly all makes sense. The opening scenes of the film contain the key of the biography of French musician and poet Serge Gainsbourg as imagined by Sfar. We see Lucien Ginzburg, a Jewish kid in occupied Paris during WWII daring not only to laugh in fronde at the nose of the collaborationist police by being the first in line to receive his yellow Star of David as a sign of nobility rather than an anathema, but moreover, to transform in his mind and his sketch drawings the fat rapacious Jew on the Vichy posters in the thin, stylish, long nose and big years Gueule - the alter-ego who will guide his steps and feed his revenging self-confidence for the rest of his life.
The combination of acting and cartoon is not a new thing, but it has never been tried before in a biopic to the best of my knowledge. Sure, it is not the usual respectful biopic but it's the vision of Sfar about Ginzburg - Gainsbourg, and Sfar he says in the final text before the credits was more interested about Gainsbourg lies than by his perceived truths. Moreover, for sure Gainsbourg himself would not have appreciated a respectful film. Ironically under-titled 'Vie heroique' (heroic life) the film takes us though the artistic and especially womanizing career of Gainsbourg from the early 50s to the late 70s. We see him in the company of such French cultural icon as Boris Vian and especially of fabulous women such as Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin (and actually the list in the film is very partial). I enjoyed each of the scenes in this part of the film which combine style, attention to details (just follow how fashion changes marking the progress of time) and deep understanding of the atmosphere of the Parisian clubs and artistic milieu in the mythic mid-20 century. His Gueule alter-ego mentors him though this trip and when he decides to renounce his patronizing, it's the beginning of the end - the charisma goes away and the effects of his excesses slowly destroy him. Maybe a little more of his art would have provided an even more complex and balanced image of the person that Gainsbourg was - this would be my only observation.
The choice of Eric Elmosnino as Gainsbourg is excellent, he drives the character from the insecurity of the young age to the decay of the end, all the time with charm and deep empathy. He proves a perfect understanding of the intentions of the director and a full identification with the identity dilemmas of the French-Jewish Gainsbourg. Laetitia Casta is a perfect replica of Bardot. Lucy Gordon is mastering very well Jane Birkin's role. Her maturity makes even harder to explain the suicide of the young actress a few days before the film was presented in avant-premiere at Cannes.
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