Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (2010) Poster

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It's not big or clever to smoke, and it doesn't make you look cool … unless you happen to be Serge Gainsbourg … !
colin_coyne2 August 2010
GAINSBOURG (Vie héroïque) … from the Studio Canal stable depicts the life story of Serge Gainsbourg from early childhood in the 1930's and 40's, until just before his death in 1991.

Born Lucien Ginsburg – and as an impressionable youth he felt outcast as being a Jewish child in Nazi occupied Paris in the 1940's – leading him to develop an imaginary friend who adopted an increasingly grotesque caricature / persona of himself that would lead him on to do more and more outrageous things to "rebel" his situation and to attempt to gain an element of "love" and "acceptance" from his notoriety.

A talented musician and artist, Lucien (who later was persuaded by friends to change his name to the more "acceptable" Serge Gainsbourg) became the darling of the social scene, charming his way through a succession of affairs with beautiful women – most notably Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Greco, and Jane Birkin.

I'm surprised that they didn't have a cigarette company sponsoring this movie – as the sheer amount of fags smoked during this film must be some sort of record!

After the showing of the film (at the Cineworld, Haymarket, London) we were treated to a Question and Answer session with the Writer / Director of this movie JOANN SFAR, who explained that the idea for the film came from his own graphic novel on Serge Gainsbourg penned by JOANN SFAR – and this pretty much formed the construct and ambiance of the movie – it is highly graphical and visual in it's content – much of it being fantasy visions and flashbacks within Gainsbourg's mind. Talking from the heart – Joann showed a real passion for the film, and was very open as to how the film was created.

Gainsbourg became the darling of French society with his talent and flair – but he also would court scandal and became infamous for the release of "Je t'aime... moi non plus" (which he originally wrote for Bardot) and the seemingly disrespectful reggae version of the French national anthem "La Marseillaise", but love him or loath him – you couldn't ignore him ..

The whole movie is very atmospheric, and some of the casting of this film was inspired – especially the terrific performances by Eric Elmosnini in the title role, the stunning beautiful Laetitia Casta as Brigitte Bardot, Lucy Gordon as Jane Birkin, Anna Mouglalis as Juliette Greco and Kacey Mottet Klein as the young Lucien Ginsburg.

At the end credits of the film is a dedication "to Lucy" which referred to the actress Lucy Gordon – who (the director explained) played the part of Jane Birkin in the film – and who had tragically committed suicide during the final editing parts of the film – a talented actress – and a sad loss.

At 2 hours 10mins long, in French with English subtitles GAINSBOURG will not be everyone's cup of tea … but the film DOES keep you entertained and if you give it a chance, I'm sure that you will not be disappointed ...

It's not big or clever to smoke, and it doesn't make you look cool … unless you happen to be Serge Gainsbourg … !

GAINSBOURG is on general release from 30th July 2010
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a surreal version of an uncommon life
georgioskarpouzas16 April 2010
I did watch this film in it's premiere in Athens, at the festival of Franchophone films.I liked the movie which incorporated many surreal and fantasy elements in the linear narrative of the life of the hero. He had an alter ego, which was the substantiation of a childhood fantasy which always tried to tempt him to follow the broad path that led to riches, fame, sex and power. He followed the advice of his evil other self and he became the public icon we know from history and the media. Emphasis is also given to his Jewishness and his courage to manifest it before collaborationist authorities as a young boy.

Excepting the marked surreal elements which the director in an introductory speech attributed to the fact that he is also a comic strip creator, the film emphasizes what we already know, that is his incessant womanizing, publicity seeking and studied provocative stance, culminating in his memorable if controversial rendering of the Marselleise-the French national anthem-in a reggae music version and a refrain that was full of irony.

The sometimes overemphasized description of his rampant sexuality drove some of the audience out of the theatre as did the depiction of his reggae version of the French national anthem. But this was obviously an overreaction due either to ignorance or desire to cut a figure. If you had the slightest idea of who Gainsbourgh was, you would not be expecting anything else from a movie dedicated to his life story.

Because Gainsbough was prone to the pleasures of the flesh with women famous or ordinary, many impressive actresses such as Laetitia Casta and Anna Muglalis appear in the movie portraying the gorgeous women he had affairs with. The whole impression you form is that he had been a anti-authoritarian bobo(bourgeois-Boheme) before this term had been invented.

There is also a sensitive depiction of his relationship with his parents, which was closer and more intimate than one would expect from a man who had such an obvious (real or affected) grudge towards authority.The actresses play convincingly the women of his life, who were glamorous and sexy. In the end one is left with the question whether such a life is enviable and worthy of emulation or example to avoid. whichever answer each one reaches, as a spectacle it is surely interesting to see.
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Serge Gainsbourg. The Man. The Myth. The Legend?
the_rattlesnake256 August 2010
Lucien 'Serge Gainsbourg' Ginsburg. Artist. Writer. Performer. Alcoholic. Smoker. Rebel. Womanizer. Genius? Joann Sfar's film documents the sporadic lifestyle of the famous French artist Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino), whose life contained no boundaries, no objects off limit, and continually tested the patience of those huddled together around him. Beginning with a young Gainsbourg developing his taste for painting aspiring models in Nazi-Occupied France as a mere teenager, the film thereupon concentrates primarily upon his relationships with various beautiful women and his life choices in regards to his ever-changing occupation over his sixty-year-life-span.

What makes this film work so well as a biopic is the truly ingenious performances by both Kacey Mottet Klein (Young Gainsbourg) and Eric Elmosnino (Adult Gainsbourg) who both somewhat beautifully represent such a tragic figure throughout his whole on-screen lifetime. Kacey portrays Gainsbourg as a boy who is maturing faster than those other children around him, so far so, that he explains to one of the schoolchildren the reason that he is good at drawing pubic hairs is because he has had an up-close and personal experience with them before. While he is also shown to be a lonely child, an outcast as Jewish child growing up in Nazi-Occupied France, and thus he develops an affable 'imaginary friend' to keep himself company. Born as small, soft head that watches over young Gainsbourg as he sleeps in the woods to avoid the Nazi soldiers, his only friend soon becomes his worst enemy as he matures into a complicated man. His once pleasant 'imaginary friend' is now a grotesque being with a large nose, long-thin fingers and an affection for cigarettes and bullying Gainsbourg. He continually berates insults, prods and engages Serge, providing the viewpoint that he himself was his harshest critic, and a critic he could not simply dismiss without entire control over his life.

Aside from the performances, the way Sfar allows the films narrative to flow in a temporal manner with no mention of time, or calendar dates, further draws the audience in to Gainsbourg's contrived world. The only way to tell when an event shifts forward in his lifetime, is through his own physical deterioration from old age which is heavily dictated by his excessive abuse of alcohol and tobacco. But as Gainsbourg becomes older, his sexual conquests stay the same age; from Elisabeth (Deborah Grall), to Jane (the late Lucy Gordon), and to an affair with the insatiable Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), before he eventually settles down with Bambou (Mylene Jampanoi), who would be his final partner. These are all young, vulnerable women who Gainsbourg exploits for his own sexual misgivings, and once they become too old, or too boring, he discards them like a child throwing away an old toy to badger his parents for a new, more expensive model.

Joann Sfar beautifully flowing biopic paints Serge Gainsbourg as a shallow, misogynistic, grumpy old man, who once had dreams of becoming famous for doing anything, but once those dreams were realised, greed and narcissism triumphed over his once forgotten ambitions. Utilizing his gift for writing, artistry and music Gainsbourg chose the route of controversy and scandal over that of happiness and family, which is exemplified in his response to the media after he had a heart attack. When the reporters asked what he will be doing now after such a dangerous and life threatening operation, Gainsbourg calmly asserted to those in attendance that he will "continue to smoke many more cigarettes and drink much more alcohol."
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This is a lively and inventive bio-pic, if a little over long .
angus-logan18 August 2010
This is a film that makes no bones about the ultimate squandering of Serge Gainsbourg's talents in a drink - induced decline but at the same time shows the creative and cultural force that his very surname still brings to mind for most French people . The movie brings out particularly well the smoky atmosphere of jazz clubs and gigs where the young Serge first plied his musicality in the 1950s. The phases of his life, from young Jewish boy in occupied France through his creative life and personal life ( for instance )amours with such as Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin in the 1960s are dizzily but effectively handled . There is some attempt by Director Sfar to portray Gainsbourg , in late career , as something of an anti- intolerance man of principle but the overall impression given is of an imaginative , somewhat amoral figure whose life was ultimately an example of artistic decline and hedonistic self-indulgence . The film is rather long but, overall , sustains interest well . The main roles are all played well by the actors ,including the female leads Laetitia Casta and the late Lucy Gordon , and the cartoon - like features of the movie , such as Serge's giant alter-ego , impressionistically contribute something positive to the story . Viewers from Anglophone countries who will best remember Gainsbourg as the singing half of the 1969 heavy- breathing pop hit " Je t'aime moi non plus " may still leave the cinema wondering what really was the artistic importance of Serge . Yet they will nonetheless , on the strength of this bio-pic , carry away an image of the principal character as an unforgettable personality .French people , on the other hand , who already regard him as a cultural icon and , in their terms ,as a genius will not need this movie to make up their minds about Serge Gainsbourg .
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I liked the reference to post-war cultural development
herbigame18 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
###### Might contain spoilers ######### I personally found the portrayal of decay one of the most impressive features in the movie. The character's fall naturally depicts the transition of the haute-couture from the war-years, which was yet a reminiscence of Golden Era, yet with a little less social exclusion, towards the chaotic and disturbing culture the re-building process in the post-war years.

You can see it first in the transition of the protagonist's manners, which change from subliminally provocative in childhood towards openly ironic during the time spent with Brigitte Bardot - every attempt to remain sincere and "ernst" during this time must have been felt as a facre - , towards unreflected vulgar anti-everything proclamations you see in the re-make of the sex-driven song and the years after.

Also, you can see it in the changing clothing, which slowly progresses and finally finds its point of no return when Gainsborg finds his British wife. First of all, it's the inter-national coupling, which of course introduces compromises on all sides, and which also makes him send away his visage, which is basically a symbol of his genius overall. What he sends away is the normed cultural knowledge he gained as an aspiring French intellectual. Accepting to embrace the then more inter-national culture, he becomes basically a perverse anti-hero which resembles the Proustian portray of Bloch. While he learns and transcends the inter-disciplinary approach towards the new culture, he becomes a torn-apart individual and ultimately an outsider for both the French and the British society, in which he lives, becoming truly an international cultural outlaw. (The first hint at his outlaw status is the rejection of his song written for Brigitte) So, his clothes change towards what you would think a typical drug-addicted rock-n-roll star outfit and has not the slightest scent of culture and style left. He resembles a little bit the latest pictures found on Dylan.

But most interestingly is the attempt to relate this final breakdown with the his experience of WW2, something that is dominantly present in the scenes where he performs the Marseillese. You see that subconsciously, he still is haunted by his past, and while his embracement of earlier haute-couture allowed him to feel at home and at peace somehow with his country and intellectual background, the emergence of a new form of pop culture - loud clubs where electronic music is played, an Asian looking girl friend, a ton of Garbage art on his estate -, you can see that this last piece of hope and divinity, which he found in the art of chanson writing, falls apart and leaves him with nothing left than ruins.

The entire biopic hence deals somehow with the cultural breakdown of the entire society due to the rebuilding process of post-war Europe, and the massive dilution of cultural products across borders, and the end of self-consciousness it introduces with itself.

The last dignity, initially spared by the war experience and conserved in the intellectual networks of Paris, vanishes. And even worse, he probably experienced to have contributed to this mess. When the Asian looking girl comes straight to the point asking if he wanted to "fuck" her, while he was still trying to frame his intentions more elaborately as a gentleman, he must have ultimately realized that everything was over. He was not even part of the outlaw movement anymore. He was just some random individual that was perceived as following its most primal instincts. At that point, he say "NO. Don't you dare to leave." Another point of no return.

Yes, because there he was. An alcoholic, post-intellectual and vulgar individual. What was left to do, but to escape everything and forget about what he once deemed important by making another baby and becoming a family man after all. The rage and violence have vanished in the final scenes, simply because anything that he could rage about was dead.

Apart from that, as already mentioned, the film was catchy, atmospheric and somewhat epic.
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A flamboyant work, a real pleasure to your eyes, but still a little bit plain.
kristine-giluce21 January 2010
A film, concentrating on the personality of the composer-singer. An icon of twentieth century, not only for France, but to whole Europe, perhaps even to the whole Occidental world. Basically, this work of Joann Sfar is based onto the the most remarkable points of Gainsbourg's life, and that is, oh, so comprehensible, because otherwise we'd have a film of five hours or more, nevertheless the two hours and twenty minutes seem already sufficient. And maybe even more than that.

This interpretation of Serge Gainsbourgs' life is a work of flaming colors; of ambiances which change periodically with the passage of time, ups and downs of Serge's life. At the end, regarding on all the milieus seen, we realize not only the length of the film, but as well the rapid cultural changes in France of twentieth century.

Pursuing on that, Sfar starts leading the spectator on a guided tour called ''Serge's life''. It starts from the forties when France was bearing the heavy weight of German occupation – this is where Russian Jewish boy called Lucien Ginsburg grows up. Though, it is funny, that in this part of movie, we can find all the stereotypes of France, in particularly Paris, for which the rest of the world keeps going mad even nowadays. Let's see, here we have the artistic ambiances of Monmartre, very similar to those of Belle Époque, bohemian to the bone - the cozy cafés, femmes fatales, chanson française and so on... This movie couldn't be seen as a real biography, starting already with the small phantasms in a form of giant head of a Jewish man who comes out of a Nazi poster to play and dance with little Lucien. It is the same boy, who later imagines La Gueule, a caricatured idol of himself in the childhood, but a big, fat ego and an exteriorized inner voice, during the adult life.

Already as a kid, he is a real charmer, an artist with multiple talents, seducing everyone around him. With the time passing this capacity of seduction becomes more and more sexual. It grows in geometrical progression until we meet (very intimately) Brigitte Bardot, the sex symbol of the time. We possibly couldn't denie that Laetitia Casta not only resembles very much to the authentic goddess of the time. She does give some quite authentic elements of Bardot's performance in Vadim's Et Dieu Créa La Femme. When dating Brigitte Bardot, Lucien Ginsbourg is already long gone, it's now the eccentric, successful and famous Serge Gainsbourg. The self convinced type, always with a cigarette in the corner of his lips. Sfar realizes very well, that the "best-seller" of the Gainsbourg appearances is his profile view, which, no-one in nowadays' Europe would never mistake. Perhaps, it is also that the man who plays Gainsbourg. Eric Elmosnino, from this point of view does not look like himself, but like his portrayed character. Stunning resemblance! And we can find a short reference to Antonioni's Blow-Up. It is the iconic image of Jane Birkin, wearing nothing but bright colored stockings.

Being this far, it is not difficult to see that the main leading powers of Gainsbourg's fame were... his talent and the charming trouble makers' appearances. Sfar's film has depicted them both. More, the presence of the phantasms and loud spoken dialogs with his inner him – La Gueule, points at the will to make this movie a bit different from a simple telling of a biography (assuming, that a large number already knows it). But still, I'd like to say that it is not enough to make this film a real masterpiece. The linearity is a little bit boring, and after the first half of the movie has been seen, you might want to check your watch. This is an unstoppable rolling towards the end, the only limit of the man – the end. But cinema has such wonderful possibilities to play with reality and even time, so why could we not have a little bit more interesting way of telling this exciting story? This makes the movie a bit plain, even with such wonderful and detailed work on visual elements.

The music? I guess it is inutile to say what kind and whose music we hear in the film. The relations between the music and images are well done, they illustrate time and place and whispers how Serge is doing. Whether you like it or not, it is already another question...
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a complex work about France in the 20th century and about one of its major artists
dromasca28 December 2010
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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Biopic that sort of works
TheGord14881 August 2010
As an Englishman I didn't have as much of an idea of Serge Gs career as most of the previous critics here, so a lot of this film was pretty educational. However, it wasn't a literal biopic by any means, using the cartoon characters alongside Serge (quite well, I thought) and the latter half of his life (I didn't realise when or whether he'd died until I'd read one of your reviewers!) seemed to tail off into nothing, even more than his increasing physical degradation was suggesting.

I found the emphasis on his sexual groundbreaking and role as a general iconoclast a bit similar to the film "Mesrine" which came out a year or two back - a similar time period was covered in that - masses of smoke and sexism! The actresses playing Jane Birkin and Juliette Greco are good (especially Jane Bs English/French accent) but "Brigitte Bardot" less so, and the scenes with her do go on a bit (although some of the poses are meant to correspond with real Bardot roles like "Et Dieu Crea La Femme" and "La Mepris".

The music fits in well with the film and, surprisingly - with the film making style - the intrusion of early 1960s loud pop, and of reggae, is quite a shock to the system, as it is intended to be, and was at the time. Perhaps I'm missing some of the French references, but in general the milieu Gainsbourg moved in might not be best served by a "straight" biopic with a Nicholas Cage-type performance, but the surrealist cartoons do detract from the picture we get of Serge - and believe me, it's not that easy to like him! I wasn't that keen on the precocious young boy stage of his life either - a bit too "that's the French way boys grow up" all very pre-Simone de Beauvoir.

Anyway shouldn't carp too long - I was glad I saw it and a lot will stay with me, although I'll remember the Django-type guitar playing possibly longer than the (apparently rather few) Gainsbourg songs which graced the soundtrack.
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Lowlife bohemia collides with 50's Hollywood
cliffhanley_21 October 2010
The life story of Serge Gainsbourg had to be filmed, and as he's one of the famous Frenchmen who aren't in fact Belgian, it's only a surprise that it took so long. That his life spanned the Nazi occupation to the rise of Disco would stretch credibility if this were fiction, but as it's all more or less true the director, who is already an accomplished graphic artist, manages to lift it to the level of slightly absurd fiction. Mixing in animation, self-consciously stagey sets and a life-sized puppet as Gainsbourg's dreaded alter ego.

Even the sordid lowlife is given the big treatment, and the early days in the garret look unashamedly glamorous as they would if re-imagined for an opera set or a Salvador Dali dream sequence, as director Joann Sfar lays it on with a trowel.

The episodic nature of the story gives it a rather patchy feel though, and I couldn't help thinking that one or two episodes, especially the cute Hollywood-style musical scene with Brigitte Bardot, could have been shorter. Bardot was just one of the high-profile women Gainsbourg captured, and so was the muse of the existentialists, Juliette Greco.The casting is pretty uncanny with the possible exception of Greco, who was never that model-thin.

Gainsbourg has always been, at least outside France, more famous for being cool than for his music. But his reworking of La Marseillaise which so upset the rightwing patriots of the Seventies was nothing but excellent. I'll go back just to hear that Sly and Robbie riddim one more time.

Quite a substantial feast but it's worth building up an appetite in advance. And of course, you get Jane Birkin and... That Song.
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A little disappointing
ihrtfilms18 November 2010
Serge Gainsbourg was many things: an artist, writer, painter, alcoholic and lover to many. He is a fascinating man who lead a fascinating life and director Joann Sfar makes a great effort here to portray it all. From the early days prior to WWII Gainsbourg was clearly going to amount to something. As he grew older and dabbled here and there in various art forms and dabbled in various women with lovers including Bridgette Bardot and Jane Birkin. Yet as he grew older Gainsbourg dabbled in more drink and drugs and this led to a troubled life.

I was to begin with fascinated by this man, full of charm and wit and ideas abounding. Yet as the film progressed I felt less and less concerned by this man and began wondering when the film might end. As interesting he was, he was also not the nicest of characters, especially in his latter years when he appears to be a drunk and grumpy man. The little touches of fantasy work well to begin with, Gainsbourg's 'imaginary friend' is interesting, but then becomes more and more grotesque and yet more annoying and often blurs the line between realism and surrealism.

Ultimately this has enough to provide an interesting account of someone who had a very full life, but for me it lost it's way part way through and therefore lost it's momentum.

More of my reviews at
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The Life of a Man Who Did Live...
velvoofell3 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
'Gainsbourg' is both a natural history of the man portrayed and the idea of the man. The brilliant use of creature effects in the make-up of Doug Jones - 'Pan' from 'Pan's Labyrinth' is a multi-layered touch, not enforcing an opinion of Serge upon the audience as such a trick might, but illustrating several things Gainsbourg triumphed over. All of these were his "self". He embraced and made his own the negative and positive appraisals people made of him, could deflect his enemies as well as magnetise friends and lovers. There were many lovers.

Bardot is present and accounted for and her portrayal here does little to shift the notion that she was a muse for artists who lusted after her rather than be a truly great artist herself. A panoply of women passed through Gainsbourg's bed linen, but it is his soul mate, Jane Birkin, who provides the beating heart of the film.

Portrayed almost chillingly by the late British actress Lucy Gordon, Birkin is first portrayed as the eternal little girl found and nurtured into womanhood by Gainsbourg - with all the ponderous ambiguity that entails - only to become the "adult" in the relationship, she realizing that Gainsbourg's talent, gift and curse was that he was an eternal little boy.

His years basking in his legendary status in the 1980s, for which he was repudiated and gained another reputation outside France as a "dirty old man" (ask Whitney Houston... no, he apologised for that on the same chat show though that apology is rarely seen) retain the wistful whimsy of the former half of the film, but do seem a touch like an afterthought.

Overall you are left with the sense that this was a man who lived, who was a misogynist who prized women, an artist whose upbringing was comfortable yet whose spirit could play the scale of emotions on heart strings; whose very charisma could melt his enemies' ire.

If 'Initial BB' doesn't become the new French national anthem by the end of the year I will be disappointed.
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Not what we were led to believe it was.
diane-348 December 2010
Diane and I had much the same opinion of this film: we thought that it was far too mannered for our taste and that the substance of this man's life could have been presented, directionally, more staid. During the film I kept thinking of Baz Luhmann's Moulin Rouge, another movie that was too mannered. It just goes to show how much people's taste varies because I sat through the movie and left wondering what I had seen; what was all the fuss about? I did not find out much of substance about the guy or his background or sequential events in his life. As a viewer, if you are looking for a minor biographical look at this man's life then buy a book. If on the other hand you don't mind seeing a Picassoesque rendering of Serge Gainsbourg's life then this movie is for you—enjoy!
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Was it really two hours ? It felt like five minutes ...
Tieum26 January 2010
There was probably a good few hundred reasons to fail that movie about the life of the most famous french song writer but I was happy to find out the director didn't fall in any of these traps. This movie was poetic, touching, elegant and engaging. Retracing Lucien Ginsburg's life with style and a touch of romanticism, the two hours unfolded so quickly that I was almost surprised when the credits started to roll. From his childhood in Nazi occupied Paris to his encounters with Boris Vian or Les Freres Jacques, from his rise to success with Bardot or Jane Birkin, the story marks all the important moments in the life of this unforgettable composer that has left many generations dazzled by his craftsmanship.

Eric Elmosnino is simply gigantic in this role, conjuring all the greatness of Serge Gainsbourg, letting us get a glimpse of its never seen before talent as well as his fragility. The staging of an alter ego representing his genie, pushing and pulling him to become the man we know is right on the spot to express his inner conflict to choose between painting and music. Music is a minor art, the man used to say as he recorded albums upon albums that are still to this day amongst the most compelling creations in french song writing. Many bits of lyrics used throughout the movie are poking the aficionado in the best way possible. 

Avoiding the traps of linear storytelling as it has to respect chronological events, it goes back and forth through time using the protagonist at different periods of his life to put in perspective what goes on in his mind. From young Lucien to l'Homme à Tête de Chou, from the fusion of Serge with his genie to become Gainsbarre, I spent an exquisite moment in the life of a man whose music and lyrical excellence have touched me as a teenager and still remain a defining influence in my life. No need to say the music is beautifully embedded in this graceful biography. 

The only minor inconvenience I could point out is Laetitia Casta that plays Brigitte Bardot without an ounce of talent, but fortunately these scenes are short and quickly forgotten. I recommend this film to anyone that has remotely enjoyed Gainsbourg's artwork at any point in his life for it is an amazing and poetic experience you will not regret. It is brilliantly shot and edited with both rhythm and attention to quiet emotional scenes. It takes you up and down with the protagonist's questioning about the meaning of his life and his descent to hell from which he never came back. Thank you Johan Sfar.

Ugliness is in a way superior to beauty because it lasts.

Serge Gainsbourg

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Gainsbourg: Portrait of an Insecure Icon
dharmendrasingh18 November 2010
Based on a graphic novel by the director (Joann Sfar), 'Gainsbourg' charts the tumultuous life of Lucien Ginsberg, the precocious son of Russian-born Jews (who settled in Paris at the time of Germany's occupation of France), who gained fame and notoriety for his music, muses and mercurialness.

Played with remarkable confidence by Kacey Mottet Klein, the young Ginsburg passes through school smoking and drawing lewd pictures of the female models he adores, and intellectually evading Nazi wrath (he pretends he is friends with Goebbles to avoid wearing the yellow star).

His skill as a lyricist and pianist is recognised and he is given his new persona: Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino). His fame quickly skyrockets as does his appeal to famous ladies of the 1960s: Brigitte Bardot (a sultry Laetitia Casta), the bohemian Juliette Gréco (Anna Mouglalis, fresh from her role as Coco Chanel) and the English singer/actress, Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon, who tragically committed suicide before the film's release).

At various points in the film Gainsbourg is joined by La Gueule ('The Mug'), his alter ego and everything he is not: daring, debonair, devil-may-care. Although I was intrigued by this peculiar, gangly figure, whose ears are emphasised and whose nose is ridiculously long and aquiline (a reference to Ginsberg's insecurity), the surrealism of this character seemed to detract from Elmosnino's performance and therefore quickly seemed bathetic.

This is Sfar's first stab as a director, so he was bound to make dubious judgements. The biggest one was casting Elmosnino as the lead. The part is too big for him. There's a very claustrophobic atmosphere and interiors are generally only partly shown, which is perhaps a reflection of Gainsbourg's insularity.

When I read about how influential Serge Gainsbourg was, how many genres he experimented with and what inspired him to pen and feature in the famously lascivious song, 'Je t'aime… moi non plus' ('I love you... me neither'), I thought I was in for a real treat. Watch this film and you may come away thinking the man was nothing but a self-effacing, odd- looking, quasi-talented musician who was prone to unexpected blubbering and who was liked, bizarrely, for those qualities which he himself was insecure about.
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Have to be french
fabrice-angelini12 October 2010
I think you have to be french and know of Serge Gainsbourg's music and life to fully appreciate the genius of this movie. It could have been a very sad and dark story but Sfar chose to turn it into a joyful and remarkable fairy tell. What are the odds to find an actor being a clone of this very odd looking man, with over all an incredible tone accuracy in his playing? I had a smile on my face from the start to the end and enjoy every single minute of this funny and creative portrait. The music is simply divine, of course, its Gainsbourg's! Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Bambou, some of the many women of his life are also remarkably played by great look a like actresses, all of the same status! If you knew who Gainsbourg was, you'll be enchanted, if you don't you'll discover, too late thou, one of the greatest musician and poet France ever had!
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The other biopic
kosmasp26 December 2010
While another biopic that was as crazy as that (about Bob Dylan) did not work for me, though it was (almost?) as hard to comprehend as this one, I enjoyed watching this one. Though I cannot put my finger on it or can I explain what made this movie work for me. It's not like I know the guy so good that I could tell you his biography. Sometimes I didn't even know that there was supposed to be a very famous (female) person on screen. Of course I realized who they were supposed to be after a few minutes, but still ...

This is very free and takes quite a few creative freedoms and decisions. But you will either like it for that or think it is just ... well rubbish to say the least. It's hard to really put a stamp on this, but if you can't get a hold of the movie after a few movies, it's better to listen to the urge to shut it off. Give it a try, if you are experimental and/or a fan ...
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a language that we can all understand
thisissubtitledmovies20 August 2010
The life and death of a musical legend is always a good excuse to make a film of grandeur. Even better if the deceased is as bizarre and sensual as the French social rebel Serge Gainsbourg. Serge Gainsbourg: Vie Heroique is the directorial debut from Franco-Belgian comic book writer Joann Sfar, slipping excessive imagination and the odd animation into the already overflowing glass of Gainsbourg's life story.

The risqué lyrics of 'Je T'aime...Moi Non Plus', Brigitte Bardot enigmatically singing "SHEBAM! POW! BLOP! WIZZ!" in 'Comic Trip', Gainsbourg dancing with his fingers across pianos and guitars, and, of course, the comic viewing of old alcoholic Serge slurring in clubs beside young hipsters. What the film lacks in biographical detail it makes up for in the precocious glamour of Gainsbourg. It's probable that nobody could ever quite retell his life with the splendour that it deserves, but Sfar has certainly painted a video in a language that we can all understand. NM
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Quelle Bummeur!
ptb-831 October 2010
This smoky snazzy superficial look at the life of sex and song of Serge Gainsbourg and the women he seduced is a fairly interesting movie. However at 130 mins it can do with a haircut. In fact most everyone in the film could have done with one, or at least a comb. All bohemian, lazy, sleepy and ennui soaked, we get to see how boy Lucien Gainsbourg morphed from butterfly child into Serge the Caterpillar adult with his 'charms' exuding Gallic sex appeal to some very famous pop culture women. His comic book songs are really just bubblegum and the Bonnie Parker song of 1967 is a ridiculous moment in radio junk. I remember these songs from 42 years ago and all this film did was remind me how silly the songs were... like something from a BEACH PARTY drive in movie but with Serge and Brigitte pouting and spouting at each other. The Jane Birkin years are far more interesting but the film slides into maudlin parody of what is becoming a boring indulgent man by the 2 hour mark. Seeing him flopping around a disco is tragic and boring. The use of a puppet as his alter ego is a terrific device. The film is well made and overall a few blips above interesting. The shattering news that actress Lucy Gordon suicided at age 28 casts a really dark heartache over the film. Remember those awful Euro pop songs of the 60s like Blue Blue My love Is Blue... well we are in a bio about a man who wrote songs just a bit better than that. It all just reminds you to see Euro pop flicks like BARBARELLA again. If you go into this willing to float along with it, then you will be satisfied.
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Did you notice Brigitte Bardot with a dill pickle in hand?
Boris_and_Natasha2 April 2017
The best aphrodisiac for ambitious women is cash. Serge knew the secret to unlocking cash. Women wanted to know Serge to unlock him. So he could unlock cash for them. (Les Saucettes was The Mega Trolling of the 20th century)

As a first generation immigrant from Russia, I can easily identify with Serge's parents. From the parent's prospective - the film is spot-on about struggles of the second generation immigrants. Kids torn between two cultures. Not the poor-basketball-playing-refugee kind. But the over-educated middle class kind. Cursed with sensitive nature. Trying to fit in. And giving up.

Serge had given up. And killed himself slowly. That's the story.
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surreal biopic
SnoopyStyle6 October 2016
Lucien 'Serge' Ginsburg is an odd-looking imaginative Jewish boy. In Nazi-occupied Paris, he is the first to get the yellow star of David before the office even opens. His unrelenting flirting charms the ladies despite his young age. After the war, he played piano like his father and later gained success with his original songs. There are his many loves, a short affair with Brigitte Bardot, and a longer one with Jane Birkin. Jane becomes the mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg. Through it all, there is always the surreal figure of a caricature Serge.

I don't know anything about Serge Ginsburg. His childhood seems interesting and got me locked in during the first act. His turn into adulthood is less compelling and his life story becomes messier and messier. His love life may be interesting for dropping the Bardot name. The surreal character is interesting at first but the movie does become chaotic.
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Mildly interesting biopic
grantss31 July 2015
Mildly interesting biopic on a French singer-songwriter who was apparently famous (probably only in France). More energetic and original than most biopics, it overdoes the imagery. The monster that flits in and out of scenes, representing Gainsbourg's dark side, I guess, is irritating from its first appearance and gets more irritating the more it appears.

Cutting out the imagery and some of the more unnecessary scenes would have created a tight, fast-paced, and much more interesting movie. The ending was rather abrupt and unsatisfying too.

Great performance by Eric Elmosnino in the lead role. Like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, I think he modeled his performance on Keith Richards' mannerisms. Good support from a cast which includes Laetitia Casta (as Brigette Bardot) and Lucy Gordon.
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The limits of a biopic are the limits of the life depicted
vsks18 May 2015
This 2010 biopic—directed by comic book artist Joann Sfar, who wrote the script with Isabel Ribis based on Sfar's graphic novel—came across every bit as messy and undisciplined as its subject's life. Serge Gainsbourg (played beautifully by Eric Elmosnino) was a French painter and highly successful musician and songwriter of the 1960s and 1970s, who is considered a leading, if occasionally scandalizing, figure in French pop music. Sfar gives Gainsbourg an imaginary alter-ego (La Gueule, played in a cartoonish mask by Doug Jones) who at first is his cheerleader, encouraging him to create and perform, but who comes to be a darker force, egging on his bad behavior. (It's somewhat reminiscent of how Michael Keaton was dogged by his former self in Birdman.) Meanwhile, Gainsbourg bounces from one love affair to another and in and out of marriage, having notable liaisons with Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Gréco, and a ten-year relationship with British actress Jane Birkin. His time is spent at the piano writing songs for his lovers and smoking thousands of cigarettes. The movie credits are charming and undoubtedly reflected the talents and eye of Sfar, and the early scenes of the movie about Gainsbourg when he was a precocious young boy (before he changed his name from Lucien Ginsburg), defiantly wearing his yellow star, are charming. But, in a rare concession to boredom, I abandoned the movie after an hour and a half, missing the artist's final downward spiral and his popular reggae period, too. Not to mention the heroic of the film's title.
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If Gainsbourg was a river that ran deep in your world...
niluferplum4 October 2014
Captivating biopic directed by French director, novelist, comics artist Joann Sfar.

If Gainsbourg was a river that ran deep in your world, if he was part of your cultural fabric, you will fall in love with the film, grateful that he has been recreated—beautifully—, that you can spend two hours in his company again, trying to puzzle out what happened to him. I loved witnessing once again the remarkable eloquence of this man of letters, his musical and poetic genius, his cutting wit, cheekiness, poker face, understated singing style, the subversiveness that was present from the outset, his vulnerability, his antics, drunken debauchery, quiet rage, the ears, the hooter, the string of alluring and high-profile women...

Each episode blends into the next seamlessly - a rare feat in a biopic.

I loved witnessing the love with which one artist, Sfar, paid homage to another.

A feast.
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manitobaman8119 August 2014
The setup: A glimpse at the life of French singer Serge Gainsbourg, from growing up in 1940s Nazi-occupied Paris through his successful song-writing years in the 1960s to his death in 1991 at the age of 62.

The verdict: The acting is effective, save for a few scenes. The metaphors are so abundant, it takes two or three viewings to catch them all. I was deeply impressed, but from an artistic standpoint, there were some plot elements and character developments I didn't think were needed. Worth a look if this sort of storyline appeals to your sensibilities. It is simple yet effective and you'll likely like it at least a bit.
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Sublime Provocation
gpjcreative22 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is an outstandingly original film.

The performances across the board are superb, the story, for all it's wildly tangential aesthetics engages and often grips.

But most of all, its dark exuberance makes it oddly joyful driving the viewer open to it into Gainsbourgs' frame of mind. Imaginative use (SPOILER ALERT) of his haunting if surreal alter ego. In fact this overtly comic-like and "unreal" wilful cipher for Gainsbourg trumps the great risk of turning the picture into farce, and instead brings us closer to the humanity, inner conflict and creative insights of the artist in evolution.

I strongly recommend it.
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