Gainsbourg’, in bio-pic terms, is maybe somewhat of a missed opportunity – despite its bio-friendly length, not much about the man is delved into too deeply, as incidents and character are skimmed over rather too haphazardly. This is a shame, seeing as I for one don’t know very much about him aside from his public persona – his songs, especially those with his loves Birkin and Bardot, that he drank a lot and that he always had a cigarette wedged in his mouth.
However, there is still very much to enjoy and admire and if, like me, you are grinning from ear to ear at the vaguely retro cartooning of the title sequence then you may just appreciate the many incidental pleasures that make up the first 75 minutes (at least) of what follows. Director, Joann Sfar has imagination and flair for sure (his daring use of animation and puppetry helps to stop things feeling dry) and he has certainly paid homage to the man and, if nothing else, this will certainly rejuvenate interest in the music.
Eric Elmosino is terrific in the title role and just like Marion Cotillard before him, in that other flawed bio of an icône française, he manages to transcend simple convincing impersonation to become the man totally (and there is NO lip-syncing the songs here either, as the cast use their own voices).
Special mentions: A suitably lusty and far too brief turn by Yolande Moreau as Fréhel. The cafe scene where the young Gainsbourg meets her is an absolute gem. As is Sara Forestier – so funny as the cheeky France Gall.
But most of all, I have to admit that Laetitia Casta’s big glam entrance as Bardot left me a little breathless . It is the film’s most indulgent highlight – all thigh-high boots, leopard print, mascara, lush blonde tresses and dog in tow, as the distinctive instrumental of ‘The Initials BB’ trumpets away on the soundtrack. It just couldn’t be anyone else.
And the songs! In fact ‘Gainsbourg’ feels closer to being a musical bio-pic. Or, to be more precise, it’s a musical homage – a love letter. The songs come thick and fast and are staged with originality, poignancy, sheer exuberant fun and are always never less than reverential to the artistry and imagination of the man (including acknowledging that he was an accomplished painter). If they don’t always telling us something specific about his character or propel the story they are always giving us the essence of his appeal.
Look out for what they do with ‘Comic Strip’ (I just wanted to jump up and cry “more, more!”), not to mention the scene when when we finally hear THAT song – it’s a little surreal and quite hysterical. Much like the film actually.