Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

Serge Gainsbourg was a French cultural icon and the title of this movie certainly reflects the filmmaker’s admiration for him. People from outside France might not consider a man who drunkenly told Whitney Houston on live television that he wanted to fuck her a hero, but Gainsbourg was revered in his homeland.

He was born Lucien Ginsburg in Paris in 1928 to a Russian Jewish family and his childhood was forever tainted by the occupation of Paris by the Nazis and the ensuing events of World War Two which meant that he and his family had to flee France in fear of their lives. Lucien was a talented painter and as a child already showed signs of the infamous womanising streak that he would become known for in later years. There is a very funny scene in the film where the young Lucien attempts to seduce the model from his painting class and brings her out for a drink.

As the movie skips forward in time Lucien becomes disillusioned as a painter and instead earns money from playing the piano in bars. He focusses more on songwriting and changes his name to Serge having been told that Lucien is a “hairdresser’s name”. The louche chainsmoking hard-drinking persona that became known throughout the world begins to take shape.

The casting in the movie is its main strength. Eric Elmosnino is both physically and aurally perfect as Serge and inhabits the role in much the same all encompassing way as Marion Cotillard did with Edith Piaf. Laetitia Casta is as alluring as Bardot ever was and the scene where she twirls around Serge’s apartment wearing only a sheet is magic. The late Lucy Gordon (who tragically committed suicide after the film) looks eerily like Jane Birkin and her English accented French is very endearing.

Gainsbourg is an impressionistic view of the singer. The film is based on the graphic novel by Joann Sfar (who directs Gainsbourg) and this influence can be seen in Serge’s alter ego who stalks him throughout the film, almost like a devil on his shoulder, and the Humpty-Dumpty Jewish character who springs to life from a poster. Anyone coming to this film expecting to know facts and details about Serge’s life will be disappointed, this is not that kind of film, but as an interesting look at a complex individual this is a great movie.

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