Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

6 Oct

Title: Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Joann Sfar
Writer: Joann Sfar, based on his own graphic novel
Starring: 
Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Anna Mouglalis, Doug Jones
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
130 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 
73%

I love everything about Serge Gainsbourg, the guy was a true icon in every sense of the way, his incredible music, his amazing style, the guy was just a true star. So I was definitely looking forward to seeing this biopic about the life of the man, directed by comic book artist Joann Sfar who adapted his own graphic novel into the screenplay (the opening animated titles are drawn by him), it seemed like a powerful look into the life of the man who has influenced so tremendously the popular music of today. And my opinion about the end result was kind of mixed actually, there were a lot of things I definitely liked about it, Mr. Sfar’s vision for how to tell the life of the icon was certainly ambitious and had a lot of well-executed intensity, perfectly capturing the glamour of the time and the lifestyle, and it’s clear that he’s very passionate about his subject, but his screenplay was just too weak for there to be any real substance here, and at times all of his ideas clashed in all sorts of uneven ways that made it all a bit too messy. But just a bit, because just when you thought this one was going to totally derail you had Eric Elmosnino in the leading role, and it’s his incredibly compelling performance that really elevates this film.

Because Mr. Elmosnino really should get a helluva lot of credit for the amazing work he does here. Originally Charlotte Gainsbourg, the amazingly-talented real life daughter of Serge Gainsbourg, was supposed to play her father, in keeping with the whole surrealist take Mr. Sfar wanted for the film. However, Ms. Gainsbourg, months into preparation for the film, dropped out saying that the experience was too emotionally draining for her, no matter how much she loved the film Mr. Sfar wanted to make about her father, and left the director ready to drop the whole project until he find Mr. Elmosnino. And boy, what a stroke of genius luck that was. A big part of me is still tremendously curious about what Ms. Gainsbourg could have done playing her dad, because that really would have been something to witness, but as a filmgoer and Gainsbourg-enthusiast you can’t help but look in marvel at the job Eric Elmosnino did.

The path chosen by Mr. Sfar to tell this story that was so charged with emotions is certainly an unconventional one, one that’s full of imagination and as such one that seems fitting considering it’s a portrait of a true creative genius, it takes a rather kooky approach to the subject but it never once loses the ambitious seriousness with which said approach is taken. It’s certainly a very strange kind of biopic in that kind of approach, not to mention that by adding that “A Heroic Life” bit to its title, it kind of proposes some sort of epic story about Gainsbourg. And in an equally strange kind of way it does give us that, not a heroic tale in so far as that it embeds some latent sense of heroism to the man since any heroism to him you will have to add yourself, and not epic in a way that it shows a man overcoming adversity, but more like in the way that it shows us the life of a man so incredibly talented, who made gorgeous music and made love to women just as beautiful. In France the man is celebrated for the songs he wrote and for the affairs he had, and this is a film that does exactly that.

It gets to the point in which the film’s accuracy about the story it’s portraying kind of gets to be rather irrelevant to the aims of the movie, which is, like I keep saying, strange for a biopic. It’s just Mr. Sfar not so much telling a play-by-play of the man’s life but instead offering bits and pieces of some of key moments in his life, most of them surrounding his music, and he gives those moments to us by providing a hugely emotional link to the life of this insanely talented but at the same time very tortured soul. And that’s really what this film goes after, not necessarily a by-the-book literal approach to the truth, but just a fairytale sort of structure that pays extra attention to the emotional context of it all. Mr. Sfar gives Gainsbourg an alter-ego, a creature played by Doug Jones (who played the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth), who follows Gainsbourg around and throws ideas to him that appeal to his wrongest of instincts.

The performances in Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life are all pretty great, led by the striking one from Mr. Elmosnino, but this is all about the legend of Gainsbourg and the amazing music he left us with, and the parts in which the film sort of turns into a musical are the best moments we get here. And while it’s incredibly obvious when watching this film that Mr. Sfar is incredibly passionate about Gainsbourg, it’s great that he never once shies away from showing the darker moments of the man’s life that dealt so much with his alcoholism and other demons. And it’s okay that the movie really doesn’t have all that much plot, and that it doesn’t even once really strive for any sort of profound analysis or biographical accuracy, it’s okay because one would have to imagine that Serge Gainsbourg himself would be more interested in the more fun and superficial side of it all. And as such, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is most definitely true to the spirit of the man it portrays.

Grade: B

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