Director    Joann Sfar
Starring    Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Doug Jones, Razvan Vasilescu, Kacey Mottet Klein
Release    TBC (US) 30 JUL (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


8th August 2010

As I sit back in the surprisingly comfortable chair of my local cinema, I realise there's nobody else in the theatre. I'm drinking a glass of red wine (it's one of those cinemas), I'm occasionally throwing handfuls of Wasabi Peas into my mouth (definitely one of those cinemas), and I'm about to watch the new biopic of serial shagger, Serge Gainsbourg. Things are gonna get pretty self-romantic and fast if another audience member doesn't get ushered in soon.

Thankfully one does, and a Pee Wee Herman moment is narrowly avoided and I can instead concentrate on 'critically appraising' the film. Disappointing.

Serge Gainsbourg, for all the mono-lingual, Franco-suspicious, Jeremy Clarkson-loving philistines who may not know, was the songwriter, artist and nymphet corrupter extraordinaire, whose brilliant, experimental pop music spanned four turbulent and lustful decades.

[gallery]Joann Sfar's directorial debut, Gainsbourg, tells the rambunctious tale of this seductive man. Based on his own graphic novel, the film takes an uncommonly magical realist slant on the man's life, which is by no means a true document. In fact the film misses vital information that necessitates a post-cinema Google session. But Gainsbourg isn't about detail; it's about tone, emotion, character and art.

The possibly divisive elements that truly set Gainsbourg apart from your standard music biopic, such as Ray or Walk The Line, include the utterly winning physical manifestation of Serge's deepest id called, self-deprecatingly, The Mug, as played by Doug Jones, who you may know better as Abe Sapien from Hellboy 2, or as the Paedo monster from Pan's Labyrinth. Nerds.

The Mug is a grotesque caricature of Serge, with disproportionate facial features, towering height and creepy long fingers. He is Gainsbourg's arrogance, greed, self confidence and sexuality personified. He glides around Serge like a ballerina, sometimes imagined, sometimes interacting with the other characters. The interplay between him and Serge is disarmingly charming.

And unlike the aforementioned Hollywood biopics, Gainsbourg doesn't seek to manipulate or melodramatise. The story is told with humour and grace. It focuses on the personal, the familial. We don't need to know how many millions of records the man sold; all we need to care about is how he lived his life so richly. A life that goes a little something like this:

Smoke, shag, carouse, knock out the odd genre-defying mega-hit, smoke, flippantly break a woman's heart or four, smoke, drink, have a heart attack, drink, smoke, father yet another child with yet another woman, shag, write, drink, adopt ill-advised late-period reggae phase, drink, smoke, die.

Brilliant, it's just like Mesrine, only it's about sex and music rather than killing and robbing. Both are primarily about smoking a shit-load though. Who could ask for a better life? Fuck, only making friends with an eternally generous leprechaun would make his a more charmed existence.

Eric Elmosnino puts in a deeply satisfying performance as Gainsbourg, a full range of 40 decades of life, from clumsy struggling naf to smooth, successful seducer all the way through to drunken, raving malcontent. It's a masterful piece of acting, and although the one major complaint of the film is that it dribbles towards a rather unsatisfying ending, much like the real Gainsbourg himself, Elmosnino is never less than hypnotic throughout.

Modern French cinema has a very flat, stately yet rudimentary quality to it. Sure the drama, acting and storytelling is always top rate, but there is very little to get excited about in the visual stakes. Gainsbourg blows that theory wide open. It's a rich, playful, luxurious experience, deeply indebted to its subject, and best of all a fitting and honest tribute.

Surprisingly little rufty though. So ultimately a bit of a disappointment.

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