Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Only the French can make a film shot of a child with a cigarette dangling out of the side of his or her mouth look romantic. Only the French can portray an older woman's infatuation with and exhibition of her naked body to a prepubescent boy not look like pedophilia. These are among the accomplishments of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, the story of the pop singer and songwriter famous for hits like “Je t'aime ... moi non plus” and “Lemon Incest,” now playing at Film Forum. Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) was born Lucien Ginsburg to Russian Jewish immigrants, and the film dramatizes the evolution of his persona with the use of animations and a puppet alter ego that finds its seminal energy in the early period of the Second World War. Gainsbourg grew up during the Nazi occupation of Paris, wearing the yellow Star of David on his chest. The film’s use of animation and puppetry can be accounted for by the fact that the director, Joann Sfar, is a comic book artist who has never made a film. Still it's a French film at heart and only the culture that produced masterpieces like Breathless, Jules and Jim and Diary of a Country Priest could succeed in making the depiction of Gainsbourg's relationships with starlets like Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot as lacking in romance and sensuality as this failed piece of hagiography does. 

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