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Gainsbourg: Vie Hroque
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Gainsbourg: Vie Hroque – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In this biopic of a French music icon, we see an insecure, Jewish, Parisian art student, Lucien Ginsburg (Eric Elmosnino), explode into a worldwide singing sensation who shocked the world, as much with his music as with his personal life.
Having relationships of varying length, success and productivity with some of the most glamorous women of his time – such as Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) and Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon) – the self-titled Gainsbourg discards his early interest in art for songwriting and performing, developing from 1950s-style club standards to such controversial landmarks as the infamous Je T’aime, Moi Non Plus and a reggae version of the French national anthem.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

The problem with making a biopic is largely in deciding which part of someone’s life to concentrate on and this film broadly shoots, pretty much, for the whole thing.
This immediately – while putting elements of his later life in context thanks to sharing his earlier experiences – creates a sense of the story jumping a few years here and there, making it hard to follow unless you’re already familiar with the complexities of his life.
As you’d expect from a film about a musician, there are plenty of songs woven neatly into the script, without feeling in any way forced. As as you’d expect from most films about artists, he is, of course, a tortured soul, constantly seeking happiness that’s always beyond his grasp.
But what makes this stand out from comparable films is the portrayal of his inner self as a muppet-like alter-ago, with a nose as large as a foot and fingers as long an arm.
Gainsbourg’s already unusual features are exaggerated beyond belief in his cartoon-like alter-ego, as it prances creepily around the period locations in a dinner suit, expressing his inner feelings. He’s the man Gainsbourg wishes he could be, but even he isn’t quite bold enough to be.
While the film-maker clearly admires Gainsbourg, this movie is imbued more with respect than love – the star doesn’t come across as being particularly sympathetic, driven by a craving for success and a string of beautiful women.
Those most familiar with his life will get the most out of the film, as a succession of stunning actresses turn up as one muse after another.
The older and more successful he gets, the more his fame goes to his head – and the harder it is for him to achieve the happiness that he’d always sought.
The most moving element of the film is unquestionably the fact that the British actress Lucy Gordon who plays her fellow Brit Jane Birkin – the mother of actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg – killed herself before the film’s release.
The is a bold and imaginative attempt to tell the story of a troubled life, but not entirely successful. If you’re not familiar with the period, you could feel like you’re being pummelled over the head by surreal images and ideas that don’t hang together and without the context of his life, it feels more like a pretentious conveyor belt of decadence than any kind of structured life with a satisfying character arc.
Maybe some lives just don’t have satisfying character arcs, but if they don’t, do they make good subjects for films?

Opens nationwide 30th July 2010

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