Film Review: Gainsbourg

I went to a press preview of this a month ago but I couldn't bring myself to review it at first due to something really sad I found out whilst researching it. Here goes. Serge Gainsbourg (1928 – 1991) is the kind of musician everyone is at least vaguely aware of (you have heard the controversially orgasmic "Je t'aime... moi non plus" at some point) but I had very little awareness of his life other than his track record with beautiful iconic women.

He lived through a really interesting period in time, the son of Russian Jewish parents who fled to Paris because of the Russian revolution in 1917, only to have to flee the Nazis. The film opens on an extremely advanced for his age pre-pubescent Serge (or Lucien as he was still called at the time), trying to seduce a model from a life drawing class, taking her drinking in a cafe and singing a song about cocaine with a music hall singer. His father promptly sends him away to boarding school where he has to hide from the Nazis in the woods at night and develops an imaginary friend who follows him throughout the rest of the film.

I have to say I found Serge's grotesque but fascinating imaginary friend, created by the artists involved in Pans Labyrinth, and his relationship with Serge as he grows up the most exciting part of the film. At times Serge the adult painter and musician comes across like a caricature of a cool smoking French artiste, so the turmoil his alter ego creates is really intriguing and revealing. Also the scenes with the women in his life, all gorgeous and enigmatic, tell a large part of the musical story which is like sitting on a French rollercoaster in the 60s with two fingers in the air. It's a beautifully made film but I did find myself thinking on occasion that things didn't quite add up. I couldn't quite understand Serge's rise to epic stardom or success with incredible beauties such as Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. Perhaps despite the very believable performance from Eric Elmosnino, Serge himself had a mystique that couldn't be denied.

Gainsbourg's gradual slide in to a rather sadly predictable pop star fate of drink, drugs, fags, illness, family collapse etc etc later in the movie made me feel slightly miserable in the way you might after spending half an hour with a very depressed person, and I suppose with a biopic you can't really invent a happy ending. Despite that I would recommend watching it because it was such a strange and fascinating life and the man was such an interesting and important musical icon (when you offend the Vatican you must be doing something of note).

Whilst watching I thought how familiar the actress playing Jane Birkin was, so when I got home I looked her up and it was the model and actress Lucy Gordon. I went to school with Lucy at Oxford High in the mid 90s, she was a couple of years older than me and we all thought she was amazing after being discovered by Select Models at the Clothes Show (and according to rumour) going out with Leonardo DiCaprio. Most of the older girls were a bit standoffish but Lucy always had a lovely smile for us, so despite everyone in my year becoming jealous, anorexic and dragging their emaciated limbs to the Clothes Show they couldn't hate her. I read that Lucy committed suicide last year in Paris during the later stages of this film being made, and the film is dedicated to her. May she rest in peace.