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Friday, May 13, 2011

'Gainsbourg'

Gainsbourg: Paris' sexy little monster


You just don't see guys like him anymore — and if you did, he wouldn't be on the guestlist of your next party. Serge Gainsbourg, the eternal enfant terrible of the Parisian culture scene who died in 1991 at the age of 62, has been resurrected on screen by French filmmaker Joann Sfar.

Gainsbourg Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
Making beautiful music together: "Gainsbourg." (c) 2010 ONE WORLD FILMS — STUDIO37 — UNIVERSAL PICTURES INTERNATIONAL FRANCE — FRANCE 2 CINEMA — LILOU FILMS — XILAM FILMS

Director: Joann Sfar
Running time: 122 min.
Language: French (subtitled
Opens May 21, 2011
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Born and bred in Nice, Sfar spent his entire boyhood enthralled by Gainsbourg — best known for the song "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus" ("I Love You ... Me Neither") — and, as soon as he could, relocated to Paris to be near his idol. A month after his move and before he could figure out a way to improve his chances of bumping into Gainsbourg on the street, the famed Renaissance man, who dabbled in most art forms from painting to music to movies, died of a heart attack.

Sfar then divested the next 20 years in chasing after the dream of making a Gainsbourg biopic. According to the film's production notes, he didn't want to make something accurate and dry — he wanted "Gainsbourg" to be an undying tribute and a soulful interpretation of (in his eyes, anyway) the coolest French artist who ever sipped Calvados in an early-morning cafe.

Sfar wasn't kidding about the tribute part. "Gainsbourg" (subtitled "Vie Heroique," meaning "Heroic Life") glosses over the misshapen lumps and unseemly, festering wounds of the artist's life (persecution because of his Jewish heritage, for one) to concentrate on the iconoclastic behavior of France's naughty boy incarnate, firmly believing that the audience will be just as enamoured as he.

Gainsbourg, portrayed here by Eric Elmosnino, lived his life like a compelling porn novel whose pages were strewn with the sexiest, most enticing women in mid-century France. He was notorious for subsisting on a reservoir of whisky and towering stacks of Gitanes cigarettes, even after he was diagnosed with heart disease. He also emanated a signature brand of rudeness and ruthlessness, and never flinched at uttering insults (mainly to TV presenters) in an even, bland tone.

It's typical of the French temperament to place this guy on a pedestal — though by all accounts, most Gainsbourg fans had a love/hate relationship going with the ugly dude whose ears stuck out from his face and who paraded his sexual shenanigans right in their faces. When Gainsbourg's daughter, Charlotte, was 13, he recorded the incredibly sleazy "Lemon Incest" with her, and loudly and publicly praised parts of her body. "Lemon Incest" became a megahit and launched Charlotte's own singing/acting career.

As for Gainsbourg's love life, suffice to say it's difficult to keep track using just 10 fingers. Among the notables are women famous and celebrated in their own right: Jane Birkin (Charlotte's mom, played here by Lucy Gordon), Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis) and Gainsbourg's fourth wife, Bambou (Mylene Jampanoi), the last woman to share his abode and who bore his son, Lucien.

"Gainsbourg" is brilliant at portraying the man as Parisian legend (the uncanny physical resemblance of Elmosnino helps), and certainly the actresses assembled to play his succession of women consist of some of the most visually arresting beauties from both sides of the Channel. The snag is that Sfar is content to condense the man Gainsbourg into a series of elegant vignettes, and ultimately avoids the difficulties of unearthing the artist's motives and persona.

But will the film benefit from such treatment? To a modern audience conditioned to revere the clean, privileged and plasticine, Gainsbourg's senseless self-destructive tendencies and relentless womanizing could grate, with or without a viable reason. As it is, after about an hour, the on-screen Serge's dirt-bag stunts wear thin, and though he tells us (convincingly) that "ugly is better than beautiful because ugly endures," you might get a hankering to see this guy make some sort of an effort.

But as the film shows, effort and Gainsbourg never did gel in real life. Until the end, he remained a Dirty Old Man, inexplicably loved by women without apparently bothering to love them back.

Sfar's film shows up Gainsbourg as the little monster that he was, a Paris fixture like a gargoyle perched on the rooftop of Notre Dame. If there is a hell, Serge Gainsbourg is most likely lording over the smoking section and totally unremorseful.

Gainsbourg

Rating:

Director: Joann Sfar Running time: 122 minutes Language: French (subtitled in Japanese)

opens may 21

You just don't see guys like him anymore — and if you did, he wouldn't be on the guestlist of your next party. Serge Gainsbourg, the eternal enfant terrible of the Parisian culture scene who died in 1991 at the age of 62, has been resurrected on screen by French filmmaker Joann Sfar.

Born and bred in Nice, Sfar spent his entire boyhood enthralled by Gainsbourg — best known for the song "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus" ("I Love You ... Me Neither") — and, as soon as he could, relocated to Paris to be near his idol. A month after his move and before he could figure out a way to improve his chances of bumping into Gainsbourg on the street, the famed Renaissance man, who dabbled in most art forms from painting to music to movies, died of a heart attack.

Sfar then divested the next 20 years in chasing after the dream of making a Gainsbourg biopic. According to the film's production notes, he didn't want to make something accurate and dry — he wanted "Gainsbourg" to be an undying tribute and a soulful interpretation of (in his eyes, anyway) the coolest French artist who ever sipped Calvados in an early-morning cafe.

Sfar wasn't kidding about the tribute part. "Gainsbourg" (subtitled "Vie Heroique," meaning "Heroic Life") glosses over the misshapen lumps and unseemly, festering wounds of the artist's life (persecution because of his Jewish heritage, for one) to concentrate on the iconoclastic behavior of France's naughty boy incarnate, firmly believing that the audience will be just as enamoured as he.

Gainsbourg, portrayed here by Eric Elmosnino, lived his life like a compelling porn novel whose pages were strewn with the sexiest, most enticing women in mid-century France. He was notorious for subsisting on a reservoir of whisky and towering stacks of Gitanes cigarettes, even after he was diagnosed with heart disease. He also emanated a signature brand of rudeness and ruthlessness, and never flinched at uttering insults (mainly to TV presenters) in an even, bland tone.

It's typical of the French temperament to place this guy on a pedestal — though by all accounts, most Gainsbourg fans had a love/hate relationship going with the ugly dude whose ears stuck out from his face and who paraded his sexual shenanigans right in their faces. When Gainsbourg's daughter, Charlotte, was 13, he recorded the incredibly sleazy "Lemon Incest" with her, and loudly and publicly praised parts of her body. "Lemon Incest" became a megahit and launched Charlotte's own singing/acting career.

As for Gainsbourg's love life, suffice to say it's difficult to keep track using just 10 fingers. Among the notables are women famous and celebrated in their own right: Jane Birkin (Charlotte's mom, played here by Lucy Gordon), Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis) and Gainsbourg's fourth wife, Bambou (Mylene Jampanoi), the last woman to share his abode and who bore his son, Lucien.

"Gainsbourg" is brilliant at portraying the man as Parisian legend (the uncanny physical resemblance of Elmosnino helps), and certainly the actresses assembled to play his succession of women consist of some of the most visually arresting beauties from both sides of the Channel. The snag is that Sfar is content to condense the man Gainsbourg into a series of elegant vignettes, and ultimately avoids the difficulties of unearthing the artist's motives and persona.

But will the film benefit from such treatment? To a modern audience conditioned to revere the clean, privileged and plasticine, Gainsbourg's senseless self-destructive tendencies and relentless womanizing could grate, with or without a viable reason. As it is, after about an hour, the on-screen Serge's dirt-bag stunts wear thin, and though he tells us (convincingly) that "ugly is better than beautiful because ugly endures," you might get a hankering to see this guy make some sort of an effort.

But as the film shows, effort and Gainsbourg never did gel in real life. Until the end, he remained a Dirty Old Man, inexplicably loved by women without apparently bothering to love them back.

Sfar's film shows up Gainsbourg as the little monster that he was, a Paris fixture like a gargoyle perched on the rooftop of Notre Dame. If there is a hell, Serge Gainsbourg is most likely lording over the smoking section and totally unremorseful.



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