Director: Joan Sfar
Cast: Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Anna Mouglalis, Doug Jones
Serge Gainsbourg (Elmosnino), legendary French songwriter and womaniser, grows up in the streets of Nazi-occupied Paris. Not keen on classically trained piano, he soon falls into playing popular bar music, chatting up the ladies as he goes. Sure, he's young, but he's "wise beyond his years", the boy proudly beams at a topless model after his still-life drawing class. It's all fun and backstory for what seems to be a straightforward biopic of the singer. Then out sprouts his alter-ego, stalking through streets and flying through the air. That's when things get very surreal.
His mug or "gruele" (played by Doug Jones) follows him everywhere, growling with dark intent. Sporting long spindly fingers and a giant wooden nose, he's a Pan's Labyrinth-esque creation borne out of Gainsbourg's own anti-Semitic self-regard. He does everything from seduce women to burn down his apartment whilst dancing and playing the guitar. It's a great inclusion by director Joann Sfar, who adapts his own graphic novel with vivid and surreal flourishes all over the frame.
The plot gets second billing - broadly chronological, but far from linear, Sfar's biopic shows us Serge's rise to fame by way of lovers, starting with Juliette Greco (Mouglalis), before progressing to Brigitte Bardot (Casta) and finally the love of his life, Jane Birkin (Gordon). More a series of vignettes than a conventional structure, Gainsbourg captures your attention and then fills your head with stylish distractions. Like puppets. And animation. And breasts.
It's not a bad format at all. Far from it. It shirks period context for an intensely personal focus, a choice which betrays the film's budget, but allows Elmosnino to shine. Brilliantly led by his suave and louche performance, this is easily one of the most interesting and stimulating music biopics to date. With its cast of gorgeous ladies - particularly the late Lucy Gordon who fleshes out Birkin's role - and a charismatic turn from Kacey Mottet Klein as young Serge, Gainsbourg makes Walk the Line look completely pedestrian. The music's far better too, with a soundtrack that matches the panache of Maryline Monthieux's editing.
But at two hours, it rambles on for slightly too long - too long for Sfar's wayward screenplay to survive, anyhow. It would be a shame to introduce more exposition to support the final half, but a clipped down runtime would turn the heady content in a short and dazzling daydream. As it is, it remains colourful and beguiling.
With Joann Sfar's fantastical visuals, Gainsbourg is an arresting look at a controversial artist. Flawed, but certainly above the ordinary.
- anna mouglalis
- brigitte bardot
- doug jones
- eric elmosnino
- jane birkin
- joann sfar
- juliette greco
- kacey mottet klein
- laetitia casta