Gainsbourg - A Heroic Life
Music Box Films
Now Showing at: Esquire Theatre
Review by: Larry Thomas
Movies, as well as real life, can be full of stories about talented people who have imploded through their own excesses and insecurities: Billie Holiday, and her film biography Lady Sings The Blues; Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce; and by extension, even Lenny’s director Bob Fosse, as he made his own inevitable swan song, All That Jazz starring Roy Scheider.
Add to that list the new French film Gainsbourg - A Heroic Life, which must be a satiric comment, since there’s nothing heroic about the titular character. Serge Gainsbourg grew up as Julien Ginzburg, a Russian Jew in occupied France. He became an artist, and a pop music composer who was most noted for his heavy-breathing song “Je T’Aime” which even made it to the US charts for a brief time. He was even more famous in his homeland for a long string of affairs with some of the most beautiful, and famous, European women of the day. These included Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot, and Jane Birkin, who was the mother of his children.
Eric Elmosnino finally gets star billing after forty-some films. I don’t recall seeing him in the others, but he does ok replicating the egocentric Gainsbourg. Unfortunately, like other disturbed talents, he’s not a likeable character in the least, and it’s difficult to fathom why all these women would find him attractive. Lucy Gordon plays Jane Birkin and is not only fine in the role, but looks much like Birkin. She, too, is her own tragedy, having committed suicide at age 28 just before this film’s release in France. But Laetitia Casta as Brigitte Bardot is like looking back into a 1960s film at this famous actress. Casta has captured the essence of the mid-century sexual icon to a “T” as well as duplicating her famous beauty.
First-time director Joann Sfar has made a very stylized film, with Gainbourg’s own alter ego, known as “The Mug,” following him around and acting as his own Greek chorus, commenting on his life as it unfolds. Some of the shots are quite striking in their composition while others are not. Hopefully, Sfar will learn from this experience and keep improving with his future efforts.
Granted, Gainsbourg had charm, and used it to the hilt. He had some talent as a songwriter, but his output seems to be either a “French thing,” or a very acquired taste. But this film does tell the story about someone who was, in the long run, one of those persons who was primarily famous for being famous, and about whom you likely knew nothing.
While not a completely successful film, and certainly not my favorite French film of the year, there are enough good things in Gainsbourg - A Heroic Life to make it worth a couple of hours of your time.
The R-rated Gainsbourg - A Heroic Life is now showing at the Esquire Theatre.