Saturday, 24 July 2010

Gainsbourg - Review

The cinematic début from - graphic novel artist come film director - Joann Sfar is difficult to pin down. While on the surface the film seems like your standard bio-pic on the life of legendary performer Serge Gainsbourg, upon viewing, it is surprisingly anything but.

Starring Eric Elmosino in the title role, the film tells an unique interpretation rather than an a straight account of Serge Gainsbourg's life. From his early days living in Nazi-occupied Paris to the height of his music career the film is rife with provocative innuendos, artistic brilliance, innovative writing and old fashion sex, drugs and particularly brilliant music which isn't necessarily rock and, or, roll.

Visually Gainsbourg is one of the most vividly striking films to come out of France since Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie - and perhaps seen in the cinema all year. You could do nothing but just immerse yourself in the whole experience.

Thankfully the performances went much deeper than the character's vibrant, yet superficial, Parisian surroundings. Elmosino's Gainsbourg was as slick and sophisticated as he was deeply perverse and erratic. Strangely though I found it quite comforting to see he wasn't perceived as another musical artist with a horrid childhood as his chemistry with his parents - played by Razvan Vasilescu and Dinara Drukarova - was a comedic delight. They seemed to encourage their son's chaotic lifestyle and fame while basking in the novelty of his torrid affairs with these extremely glamorous and gorgeous women.

Arguably Gainsbourg's musical success - in the context of the film at least - could be attributed to the contributions of three particular women, the heavenly Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon), the jaw-droppingly voluptuous Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) and the deeply seductive Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis). All of whom could bring any full blooded heterosexual male to his knees. They were stunningly sexy yet also extremely brilliant women, in their own right, who managed to bring out the best in Gainsbourg's work.

The stand-out performance for me however came from Doug Jones - famed for his appearances in Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy films - as Gainsbourg's rather surreal and devilish imaginary friend, simply known as 'La Gueule'. An exaggerated self portrait of Gainsbourg, it represented the troubled artist's inner demons while also becoming the driving force for his creativity and sheer debauchery throughout his entire life. Almost coming across as a 20th century Grimm fairy tale in certain scenes.

The music of course was based almost entirely around Gainsbourg's brilliant work including my two favourite pieces, Bonnie and Clyde (feat. Bardot) and Je t' non plus (feat. Birkin). Here we start to delve into more traditional bio-pic territory, as we see how his most famous work came to be, and the personal connection Serge attributes to each individual piece, pending on which 'muse' he was with at time.

From the surreal, dream-like sequences inside Gainsbourg's head to his sobering real life horrors, the work put in by Sfar was remarkable. While devoted biographers of the man may perhaps be deeply annoyed by the artistic license taken by the director, but personally when a film is this suave, sexy and luxurious on the brain, who really cares? You can keep your 'Ray' and 'Walk The Line' I say...

Final Thoughts
Joann Sfar's exaggerated bio-pic is about as real as the nose and ears on Doug Jones' unsettling creature featured in the film, but regardless Gainsbourg is one of the most visually pleasing films you will see all year - and perhaps the best début feature you will see in 2010. A provocative and imaginative window in a world of complete self-indulgence, capturing the alluring, yet already preconceived, spirit of one of France's most acclaimed musical artists. Je t'aime...


See This If You Liked...
Walk The Line, Amelie, Coco Before Chanel.

Gainsbourg will be in selected cinemas from July 30th 2010. Belfast visitors will be able to see the film in the wonderful art-house, the Queens Film Theatre.

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