Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

By Moira Sullivan
  Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta)
The late French singer songwriter Serge Gainsbourg has received a renaissance of tributes in French culture since his death in 1991.  His life was cut short due to drug and alcohol addiction but that did not interfere with the love affair he had with the French people.The premise of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life seems to rest on his origins in a poor Jewish family in Nazi occupied Paris where his father forced him to play the piano.

Young Serge suffered from an inferiority complex and as the story goes he developed an alter ego that made him more dashing and debonair than he felt inside. He cannot be considered handsome but he had outstanding charisma and charm that endeared him to primarily women, but he also served as a hero to men because of that success. As far as I can see this is why he is deserving of the title of the film. 

Joann Sfar who made a graphic novel that concentrates on this alter ego directs the film. Obviously, this helped Serge survive who quickly became an accomplished songwriter and made several women famous with his lyrics such as Juliette Greco and Brigitte Bardot. 

The insertion of animation in the live action film from the graphic novel does not take the narrative to a higher level, but it does force us to take into account the fragility of Serge throughout the film. His arrogance and disregard for his wife Jane Birkin included a string of affairs and irresponsibility, such as allowing his daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg in a room with a loaded gun in his possession. It is also controversial that he made a duet with Charlotte that many consider disturbing entitled "Lemon Incest". The frequency of incidents with women that were not positive include raw remarks made on the air to Whitney Houston on French TV and the erotic lyrics he wrote for Bob Marley’s wife Rita that infuriated the Jamaican musician. 

When Serge was younger, his charm and bad boy image pushed him to fame but as his career imploded with scandals,his sex addiction became more obvious. There are many legends about Serge Gainsbourg that the film takes up and Joann Sfar keeps the story pitched at the musician’s luck with women, as do many biographical accounts. Ironically, the actress who plays Jane Birkin, British actress Lucy Gordon, committed suicide before the release of the film.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 10/26/11
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