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  Gainsbourg The Ladies Man
Year: 2010
Director: Joann Sfar
Stars: Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Doug Jones, Anna Mouglalis, Mylène Jampanoï, Sara Forestier, Kacey Mottet Klein, Razva Vasilescu, Dinara Drukarova, Philippe Katarine, Deborah Grall, Yolande Moreau, Ophélia Kolb, Claude Chabrol, François Morel
Genre: Weirdo, Biopic, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is the tale of Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino), one of France's greatest songwriters, who sprang from humble beginnings on the streets of wartime Paris believing he wished to become an artist. He always had an eye for the ladies, and even as a lad managed to chat up the model employed by the art school he studied at as a child, yet his Jewish origins were becoming a liability to his safety in the age of the Nazi occupation and he was forced to move away. He had resented his father's insistence on piano lessons, but as he matured he would find them very useful...

As if in the wake of the Edith Piaf biopic along came Gainsbourg, but there had been plans for such a work for a while, although the artist's family had never been overly keen. Writer and director Joann Sfar, however, had a more imaginative approach than many, basing this on his comic book on the subject's life, and the results were nothing if not eccentric, with its lead character often shadowed by a cartoonish caricature of himself, played by the costumed performer's costumed performer for the 21st Century, Doug Jones, who interacted with the "real" man and even with other people, as if they could see him as well.

This was not an all out fantasia on Gainsbourg's life, as there were plenty of recreations of what he was best known - or most notorious - for, although those two things in Britain tended to be his announcement to Whitney Houston on a French chat show exactly what he would like to do with her, which does not feature here, and his number one smash Je t'aime (moi non plus) which he recorded with one time wife Jane Birkin, which naturally is included because you could hardly have a Gainsbourg biopic without it. Sadly the Birkin aspect was what offered the production publicity of a tragic kind when the actress playing her, Lucy Gordon, committed suicide shortly before the film's release.

Elmosnino is an ideal match for the title songwriter, looking remarkably like him and managing a fair approximation of his voice, both singing and speaking, so that you're never left thinking you're watching an impersonation. Yet unless you'd recently read a biography on Serge, you might get somewhat lost, as no sooner is he having marital troubles with a wife who appears from nowhere but he's writing songs for France Gall (yes, that tune does get a passing reference) and then jumping into bed with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta enjoying herself). All very well, but the impression is more that Sfar was so caught up in his material that he was not too choosy about what he put into it.

And what he left out as many were baffled by the film's omittance of anything but a minor hint to what many consider Gainsbourg's masterpiece, Melody Nelson, which looks less coy and more like they were refused the rights to use any of it. The music was rightly presented as important, as much for the buttons of controversy it pushed as it was for its quality, so his reggae version of Le Marsellaise and the resulting anti-Semitism it was blamed for is a necessary point, but you also get scenes where he is composing less antagonistic works like his songs for Bardot. Really the most likely viewer to get the most out of this will be the one prepared to go through it and recognise what it refers to, as otherwise the film was a melange of bits and bobs with themes raised, contemplated, then dropped as something else equally worthy came along. If you like biopics because you get to see famous people depicted by other people, then that appeal was here as well, yet it was intriguing without being engaging.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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