'Gainsbourg' Brilliantly Depicts The French Musician

The new film Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is an unconventional biopic about French musician Serge Gainsbourg. He is celebrated in France for the songs he wrote, and the affairs he had with beautiful women like Brigette Bardot.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's easy to find drama in the life of Serge Gainsbourg. He was a wildly popular French musician and a wild man, who burned money on TV and showed up drunk onstage.

Our critic Kenneth Turan says that the new film "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life" uses unconventional methods to tell an unconventional story.

KENNETH TURAN: Serge Gainsbourg is best known in this country for "Je T'aime, Mol Non Plus," the racy duet he recorded with British actress Jane Birkin.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JANE BIRKIN (Actress): (Singing in French)

TURAN: Gainsbourg is celebrated in France for the songs he wrote and the affairs he had with beautiful women like Brigitte Bardot. He's also known for being a provocateur who created outrage and scandal wherever he went.

Gainsbourg is introduced in 1941 as a precocious 13-year-old so defiantly Jewish he insists on being first in line to get the yellow star Jews were mandated to wear in occupied Paris.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life")

Mr. ERIC ELMOSNINO (Actor): (as Serge Gainsbourg) (French spoken)

TURAN: On the way home, Gainsbourg walks by an anti-Semitic poster. In the film's boldest stroke, the bloated caricature on the wall comes to life and starts to follow him home. That caricature morphs into an alter-ego with an enormous nose who stays with Gainsbourg for the entire film, appealing to all his worst instincts.

Writer-director Joann Sfar, who is an acclaimed French comic book artist, won a Cesar for "Gainsbourg." To him, the songwriter's life is heroic because he lived in his own imagination and went toe-to-toe with those personal demons.

Gainsbourg never had any difficulty getting beautiful women to pay attention to him. He had a complex cocktail of personality traits and could be simultaneously arrogant and insecure, shy and domineering.

Gainsbourg's music continued to be adventurous and controversial, and never more so than when he collaborated with Jamaican stars Sly and Robbie to do a killer reggae version of French national anthem "La Marseillaise." It caused a riot when he debuted it in France.

(Soundbite of song, "La Marseillaise")

Mr. SERGE GAINSBOURG (Singer): (Singing in French)

TURAN: "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life" doesn't flinch when its subject goes deeper and deeper into alcoholism and bad behavior. Filmmaker Sfar wants to give us a report from within the mind of this gifted, tortured individual, and this he brilliantly does.

(Soundbite of song)

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan, or Ken Turan, reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.