Movie Review: Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

By Stephen Rebello

This biopic about the French musician may leave you wanting to drink and smoke yourself into oblivion, our critic writes.

Director: Joann Sfar

Rating: NR

Studio: Universal Pictures International

It’s tempting to warn you not to bother hanging around with anyone to whom you’d have to explain the mythic status of quintessentially French songwriter-singer-provocateur Serge Gainsbourg, let alone that of his lovers who included Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. But, trust us, you certainly don’t want to see Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life with anyone so clueless.

The debut movie from graphic artist Joann Sfar is written and directed with such dreamlike style, comic assurance and Gitane-saturated sexiness that you may leave the theater wanting to drink and smoke yourself into oblivion, raise hell and indulge in epic sex for days on end. The French import takes Gainsbourg from his days as a cheeky, big-eared Jewish kid in occupied France to his worldwide fame, ugly self-absorption, abandonment of his wife and kids and virtually willing himself to die. It’s part of artist Sfar’s creative conceit to depict Gainsbourg as stalked throughout by “The Mug” (played by Doug Jones), a beak-nosed, rat-like doppelganger resembling a cross between Max Schreck in the 1922 classic Nosferatu and those hateful Nazi cartoon depictions of Jews.

Gainsbourg, whose so-called ugliness was dwarfed by blazing badass charisma and talent, is played—in a pair of astonishingly good performances—by Kacey Mottet Klein as the adolescent Gainsbourg, and Eric Elmosnino, who takes on the rebellious artist from young manhood to his 1991 death at age 62. The movie around them is decadent, erotic and highly entertaining, due in no small part to the pleasures of watching Anna Mouglalis as sensual singer and artist muse Juliette Greco, Laetitia Casta as the extraordinary movie icon Brigitte Bardot and the late Lucy Gordon as actress and “It” Girl Jane Birkin. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life may not be the most incisive, definitive bio-movie you’ll ever encounter—all that cigarette haze masks a number of shortcomings—but to see it is to be thoroughly and expertly seduced.


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