Monday 16 August 2010

Gainsbourg (2010)

Joann Sfar’s  deluxe biopic of Serge Gainsbourg is consistently enjoyable and inventive without ever becoming completely satisfying. The movie’s subtitle – “Vie Heroique” - implies hagiography, but Sfar’s approach is, thankfully, quirkier and more idiosyncratic than this suggests; among the movie's more surreal conceits is to have its Gainsbourg (the superb Eris Elmosnino, from Father of my Children [2009]) pursued by a chatty alter ego, “The Mug” (Doug Jones, of Pan's Labyrinth [2006]), who externalises his doubts about his appearance. The film romps through some of the major incidents in the singer’s controversial life with style, wit and insight, though its rhythm is curiously "off" in some sequences, which arrive without notice and depart without follow-through, and may reflect Sfar’s directorial inexperience. (A particularly weak scene captures a record promoter’s eyebrow-raised chagrin as he listens to "Je T’aime... Moi Non Plus" - but the wider response to the recording isn’t documented.)

Elmosnino’s performance is a phenomenon, though, and one that holds the movie together. There’s good support from Laetitia Casta, who, as Brigitte Bardot, gets the most memorable movie entrance in some time, and from the late Lucy Gordon as Jane Birkin. Though the film is nowhere near as radical (or as successful) as Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There (2007), it’s endeavour to move the biopic out of its comfort zone is admirable. Sfar makes no claims to definitiveness throughout - indeed, he’s stated that he constructed much of the film out of Gainsbourg’s “lies.” The result is a patchy but dynamic and entertaining piece of work; the movie’s eccentric, haphazard approach matches up well with its subject.

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