Best-selling comic book artist Joann Sfar delivers a fascinating biography of famed French singer Serge Gainsbourg with his impressive debut Gainsbourg, Je t'Aime... Moi Non Plus. Born Lucien Ginsburg to Russian-Jewish parents, Gainsbourg was lastingly impacted by his childhood in Nazi-occupied France. Sfar gives a glimpse to what is to come by introducing a massive anti-Semitic caricature puppet that chases the young Gainsbourg through the street. From there, Sfar depicts Gainsbourg's rise to fame and his proclivity to drinking and women—including his affair with Brigitte Bardot (perfectly cast Laetitia Casta) and marriage to Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon).
Creating anything but a basic biopic, Sfar envelopes Gainsbourg's story with a unique and surrealistic style, incorporating such devices as puppets and cartoons to punctuate the incredible life of the man that gave the world songs such as "Bonnie and Clyde" and the scandalous "Je t'aime… moi non plus." Sfar's fantastical elements and sumptuous cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman give an added dimension to Gainsbourg's turbulent life, and Eric Elmosnino's uncanny resemblance and immersive performance may make you forget you're not watching Gainsbourg himself.
Director's Statement Collapse
Certain artists choose their masters in the same discipline they have chosen. Not me. My master has always been Gainsbourg. And since I didn't want to offend him by helplessly attempting to become singer, I became a cartoonist. I left Nice for Paris with one goal in mind: to meet Serge Gainsbourg. I figured that since I adored him, he would naturally adore me too. I originally wanted to do a comic book based on one of Gainsbourg's novels, Evgueni Sokolov. A month after I moved to Paris, Gainsbourg died.
My film is very faithful to his life, but it won't be a biopic. It's a real narrative. Paris is like a character in the film, as is London. We discover all sorts of nooks and underground worlds as we follow Gainsbourg's footsteps.
There will be no pornography, indecencies or obscenities in my film, but there will be a lot of vulnerable characters who seem to communicate mainly horizontally in bed. I don't want my film to hurt anyone. I want Gainsbourg's heirs to be proud of it. Its guiding principle is that it's ultimately the story of a great poet. Gainsbourg always tested the limits, but only a fool would believe cynicism was the motive behind his actions. This is the story of a timid and self-conscious man who protects himself as best he can.
This hero's life is epic. We should feel the Russian blood coursing through the story's veins. There will be no original recordings of Gainsbourg's songs. No jazzy or kitschy film soundtrack. Everything will be re-done, re-worked, re-sung, and become larger than life. Original tracks won't be artificially superimposed on new images. The voice, music, and image should all be in harmony. I want to make a film comparable to Ray or Walk the Line.
We see how much it took out of him to write songs and have to defend them and himself each time he recorded a new album. Gainsbourg had the courage to write what youth was looking for. He is the most classical and modern of songwriters. He reaches incredible heights in his songwriting immediately followed by lows during publicity stints on TV. Every artist experiences the sadness of trying to be funny or likable in front of an audience, when in fact all he wants is an intelligent ear, a friendly smile, and welcoming arms.
Gainsbourg will not be a historiographic or an anecdotal film. No, this film aspires to recount a modern myth because the figure of Gainsbourg is radically modern. No book or movie has ever delved into his heroic qualities. There is no one more Christ-like, nor Jewish nor Russian than Gainsbourg. I obviously know Gainsbourg's "real life" like the back of my hand, but I do not want to make a "realistic" or "journalistic" film. I want to create something more like a Russian fable, a modern legend.
This film will be full of lies because I love lies. This is how I go about creating a modest and self-conscious work: lying, always lying. I always do a great deal of documentary research beforehand, and then purposefully forget half of what I learned. Then I take my subject and make him into a legendary hero. There have been trashy, poppy, and sex-obsessed representations of Gainsbourg. Mine will be Russian, a hero right out of Isaac Babel, Gogol, or Dostoyevsky. I would also like this film to address a foreign audience that may not be as familiar with Gainsbourg. Those who experience the film should not only see an extraordinary destiny unveiled, but also witness a modern archetype. I believe that Gainsbourg is more heroic than Superman, in the sense that the Greeks understood it, because a hero is someone who suffers and gets knocked down, but will still grab burning coals with his bare hands. A real hero is one who offers his audience chunks of scalding, molten lava, like Prometheus did.
I am entirely aware of the load I carry on my shoulders, but I love carrying loads that are too heavy to take on.