Sunday, March 13, 2016

Gainsbourg: Vie Héroïque (France; Johann Sfar, 2010)


  Apart from his notorious reputation of being France's most iconic musical bad boy, I didn't know much about Gainsbourg's life, or his music for that matter, before screening this exhilarating take on the essence of his life. Having heard his name many times during musically-themed conversations, I was aware that he had quite a following even here in Quebec,and so was curious to see what was so appealing about this deep-talking nicotine fiend.

   At the end of the film, just before the credits, the director quotes himself saying the he has too much respect for Gainsbourg to attempt a realistic approach; and that in any case, it's not Gainsbourg's truths that interests him, but his lies. This statement is greatly reflective of the film's overall tone and atmosphere as the real world is constantly being intruded upon by life-sized marionettes, animated alter-egos and spontaneous musical numbers that serve to externalize the inner world of this multi-talented, eccentric artist who constantly marched to his own, destructive beat. While some of the outer-body exchanges between Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) and his various forms of consciousness sometimes appear tacky and thus hard to take seriously (the four Keystone Cops in Teletubby suits especially come to mind here), the overall result is an effective portrayal of a life that seems to be more concretely rooted in fantasy than reality, including when perceived by the singer himself.

    Women... One can't talk about this polished of piece of entertainment without mentioning the driving force behind Gainsbourg's tumultuous life. Whether he's trying to manipulate his mother into buying him a gun or attempting to get a woman almost 20 years his senior to take her bra off for a portrait under pretext that he can't draw them yet, he is shown to be a fervent fan of women from very early on. 12 year-old Kacey Mottet Klein is brilliant in his portrayal of a cocky Gainsbourg who knows he's going places, and wants to take every women with him on the way there. While the film is primarily interested in exploring his two main relationships, with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) and wife Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon), his appreciation for the female form and presence is portrayed as being equaled only by his love for cigarettes, a fact evidently well-known to all those familiar with his often sexually implicit songs. The scene in which he and Birkin present the demo of Je t'aime... Moi non plus to a shocked producer is priceless. 

 While sometimes suffering from a unsteady screenplay, this fable-like biopic quickly makes up for it with a terrific cast, a deep respect for its subject and a capacity to immerse the audience into Gainsbourg's internal universe; a universe filled with smoke, music and body heat... 
Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night. 

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