Joann Sfar’s film debut about Serge Gainsbourg, the grandfather of French pop music, should be a delight for any fan or soon to be convinced fan. You’ll nod and smile when you recognise the subtle references to certain albums or the obvious foreshadowing of events to come. You’ll marvel at your knowledge of Gainsbourg or you’ll put some pieces together you hadn’t quite figured out. And if you’re like me, you’ll sing along to most of the songs.
Any real Gainsbourg fan has to see this film. You need to be reminded of him, of Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot, Bambou and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and you need someone to tell you the story of Serge’s youth, his Russian Jewish background, his parents and siblings, and how a young boy goes from painting and drawing naked ladies to becoming the national French sex and rock & roll ‘enfant terrible’. Notice I didn’t say drugs because Serge was totally against them.
What I really liked: Eric Elmosnino is the perfect incarnation of Gainsbourg, right down to his manerisms. He didn’t underplay or overplay, he was great, as was the amusingly insolent young Gainsbourg played by Kacey Mottet Klein. I loved the opening credits with their animations, I got lost in all the plush decors and I adored all the new versions of Gainsbourg’s music in the film.
What I didn’t really like: You’ll be reading this comment in other critiques, but the puppet-like alter ego ‘La Gueule’, an exaggerated ‘doppelgänger’ of Gainsbourg, like a devil-on-the-shoulder conscience thing was too prominent. Ironically, Gainsbourg’s alter ego ‘Gainsbarre’, a persona he took on in his later days, was in the film, but never even mentioned.
Mini-spoilers: Jane’s daughter Kate and Serge and Jane’s daughter Charlotte are played by the same actresses that play Serge’s sisters Liliane and Jacqueline. Also, Russian actress Dinara Drukarova who plays Olga Ginsburg, Serge’s mother, spoke some Russian in the film. To my personal delight, as I still speak Russian sometimes, it was left untranslated, while Razvan Vasilescu, a Romanian actor who played Serge’s father, Joseph Ginsburg, was never on screen when he spoke Russian, which probably means it wasn’t him.
And for the untranslated quote in the film’s closing credits about Sfar’s on his film:
“Ce ne sont pas les vérités de Gainsbourg qui m’intéresse, mais ses mensonges.”
(“I am not interested in Gainsbourg’s truths, I’m interested in his lies.”)
(Photo: Picture of 5 bis, Rue de Verneuil, Paris, Gainsbourg’s house with Joann Sfar’s graffiti, taken by yours truly on 25 December 2009.)