Blog Directory CineVerse: Gaining insight on Gainsbourg

Gaining insight on Gainsbourg

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Many Americans likely have never even heard of the late French singer Serge Gainsbourg, let alone a 2010 movie made about his life. But this rapscallion creative genius is actually a worthy subject for a biopic because he was so enigmatic, artistically indulgent and alluring to fans and females. Last night, during our CineVerse group discussion of director Joann Sfar's "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life," we covered the following points:


  • It’s title is a big puzzling: “A heroic life.” You could argue that Gainsbourg was not a “hero,” in the conventional sense of the word, although he was a beloved French singer/celebrity; in fact, he often had a notorious reputation as an unsavory character who would make drunken TV appearances, record naughty songs, and get into trouble.
  • The performers cast to play Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot look and act uncannily like the actual people they are portraying.
  • Serge Gainsbourg was arguably more famous for his controversies and rebellious personality than for his singing talent or musical output; that makes him a curious and fascinating subject for a biopic.
  • This film includes fantasy sequences involving a sports mascot-like figure called the Mug, which many viewers would not have expected. This character is used as a narrative device to help tell Gainsbourg’s internal story—the thoughts and motivations he wrestled with or succumbed to. Problem is, so are so many fantasy scenes that it can sometimes be difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not, as the Mug often remains in the frame after Gainsbourg shifts his attention to a real person counterpart.
  • This isn’t intended to be a soup-to-nuts conventional biopic. It gives us brief vignettes of the singer’s life, with the introduction of a new female partner marking the beginning of a new chapter as he moves from one love interest to the next. It doesn’t linger long an any one period of his life, so that we are shown more of a pastiche representation of his life.
    • Director Joann Sfar was quoted as saying: "It's not the truth about Gainsbourg that interests me, but his lies."
    • Per a review by the BBC, “It could be objected that Gainsbourg is too respectful; to be sure, it skips lightly over the serial womanising and the misogyny, the family breakdowns and heartbreaks, the sleazy feature films, the unsavoury stunts and embarrassingly drunken performances, all too familiar to French television viewers.”
    • That same BBC review added: “By casting his ‘hero’ in a favourable light and steering clear of the squalid, unshaven ‘Gainsbarre’, Sfar reminds fans and newcomers alike why in spite of everything Serge Gainsbourg remains such a national treasure. In conjoining Jewish heritage and classic French chanson, Gainsbourg celebrates the hybridity of contemporary French culture, while its combination of realist narrative and poetic animation make it both a touching biopic and an inspired musical.”
  • The rebel, the anti-hero, and the bad boy often get the respect, fame, fortune, and female adulation that escapes other men. In other words, bad behavior is often rewarded here, and Gainsbourg is allowed to live by a different standard—but that’s because he was regarded as a creative genius.
  • A world of fantasy often provides a respite and sanctuary from the harsh realities of life.
  • The struggle to know oneself and to establish an identity.
Musical celebrity biopics like:
  • Beyond the Sea
  • Selena
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Walk the Line
  • Ray
  • Love & Mercy

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