Movie review: 'Gainsbourg' riffs on singer's life

This is an archived article that was published on in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The life of French singing star Serge Gainsbourg wasn't a normal one — a childhood as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France, a career begun playing in piano bars, stardom, failed marriages and love affairs with actresses Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin — so a movie of his life shouldn't be normal, either.

Writer-director Joann Sfar, a comic-book artist making his film debut, creates many scenes of the self-doubting Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino, who won a Cesar, France's Oscar) arguing with "The Mug," a Terry Gilliam-esque caricature of himself (performed by "Hellboy" mime artist Doug Jones) who represents the singer's unbridled id.

That internal dialogue illuminates Gainsbourg's poetic music, and the passionate affairs with Bardot (played by model/actress Laetitia Casta) and Birkin (played by English model Lucy Gordon, who committed suicide while the movie, which is dedicated to her, was being edited). The end result is a movie portrait that plays like jazz, with offbeat rhythms and a vibe all its own. —


'Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life'

Opens Friday, Dec. 23 at the Tower Theatre; not rated, but probably R for sexuality, nudity and language; in French with subtitles; 122 minutes.