For the last couple of years we've been receiving steady reports about the conception, shooting, editing and slow unveiling of a monumental French biopic about the greatest Frenchman of the 20th Century (take that, Charles freakin de Gaulle!). Gainsbourg (Vie Héroïque) “Un conte de Joann Sfar”—Gainsbourg (Heroic Life) “A tale by Joann Sfar”–is finally being released all over Europe and we're getting the first critical reports about it. WCS has been salivating for months over leaked set shots, stills and trailers, and it seems the film does not disappoint.
The saliva-inducing trailer, PLUS review and article explaining “why France is still in love with Serge” by the UK's The Independent, after the jump.
From Kaleem Aftab's review for UK's The Independent:
Starting off in conventional style with a young Gainsbourg (Kacey Mottet Klein) frolicking on the beach and being forced into playing the piano by a seemingly tyrannical father (Razvan Vasilescu), the action quickly jumps into the abstract when a giant animated puppet appears lying beside the young Jewish boy in his bed as he's being told about the Nazi threat.
By the time we see Gainsbourg as an adult (a delightful turn from Eric Elmosnino) a puppet doppelganger (Doug Jones hidden behind a hooked nose and big-eared mask) follows the chain-smoking artist everywhere. The puppet is the devil inside the artist, although Sfar notes that Gainsbourg doesn't ever need much encouragement to provoke and agitate. He is painted as the ultimate rebel constantly suffering from an identity crisis.
First-time director Sfar is best known as a comic book artist and the animation has a childlike quality that captures the abstract nature of artistic inspiration. But for the most part the emphasis is on the man suffering from inner demons. The performance of Elmosnino has something of Peter Sellers about it as he flits between humour, sadness and anger with consummate ease.
The Independent's feature “Why France is still in love with Serge” provides fascinating tidbits about the production:
- “The movie […] is, in its way, as poignant and painful as the singer's own life. One of its principal roles, that of Gainsbourg's British muse and third wife, Jane Birkin, is played, brilliantly, by a young British actress, Lucy Gordon, who committed suicide soon after the film was completed last year.”
- “The director, Joann Sfar, previously a writer of comic-strip books, has dedicated his movie to Ms Gordon, who was 29 when she died.”
- “A curiosity of the film is Mr Sfar's insistence that the actors must sing for themselves and not mime to original recordings. The recreation by Ms Gordon and Mr Elmosnino of the 1969 classic of heavy breathing and orgasmic noises, “Je t'aime, Moi non plus” – Gainsbourg's only global hit – is reasonably convincing. Other actors' efforts range from the effective to the courageous to the karaoke borderline.”
- “Mr Sfar admits that he has simplified and exaggerated the life of a man who, in any case, loved to caricature himself. By doing so he has angered Ms Birkin, now a 62-year-old English rose and the most popular Briton living in France. As the chief guardian of the temple of Gainsbourg's memory, she insisted that the film's title must be followed by a disclaimer describing it as not a biography but a “conte” or “folk-tale” by the director.”
- “Another curiosity of the movie is the fact that Mr Sfar originally tried to cast the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, as her father. Ms Gainsbourg considered this startling offer but then refused. Mr Elmosnino, 45, looks, in fact, much more like the seductively unlovely Gainsbourg than the singer's beautiful daughter does. When asked once to explain his serial success with women despite what he described as his “cabbage-head” looks, Gainsbourg said: “Ugliness is superior to beauty because it lasts longer.”
- “A further curiosity in the film is that Gainsbourg is portrayed as constantly battling with an alter-ego – humorous and creative but also self-destructive – which assumes a physical form, played by the American actor, Doug Jones. The director, Mr Sfar, said that he wanted to tell the story of a man who had a “love- hate relationship with his country and the women he loved … a man who was terrified of being alone and had a desperate desire to be liked but muddled the love of his loved ones and the love of the public.”