Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Gainsbourg, Eric Elmosnino, Doug Jones, La Gueule

Doug Jones and Eric Elmosnino in Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

This 2010 biopic—directed by comic book artist Joann Sfar, who wrote the script with Isabel Ribis based on Sfar’s graphic novel—came across every bit as messy and undisciplined as its subject (trailer). Serge Gainsbourg (played beautifully by Eric Elmosnino) was a French painter and highly successful musician and songwriter of the 1960s and 1970s, who is considered a leading, if occasionally scandalizing, figure in French pop music.

Sfar gives Gainsbourg an imaginary alter-ego (La Gueule, played in a cartoonish mask by Doug Jones) who at first is his cheerleader, encouraging him to create and perform, but who comes to be a darker force, egging on his bad behavior. (It’s somewhat reminiscent of how Michael Keaton was dogged by his former self in Birdman.) Meanwhile, Gainsbourg bounces from one love affair to another and in and out of marriage, having notable liaisons with Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Gréco, and a ten-year relationship with British actress Jane Birkin. His time is spent at the piano writing songs for his lovers and smoking thousands of cigarettes.

The movie credits are charming and undoubtedly reflected the talents and eye of Sfar, and the early scenes of the movie about Gainsbourg when he was a precocious young boy (before he changed his name from Lucien Ginsburg), defiantly wearing his yellow star, are charming. But, in a rare concession to boredom, I abandoned the movie after an hour and a half, missing the artist’s final downward spiral and his popular reggae period, too. Not to mention the heroic of the film’s title.

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating 73%; audiences: 68%.