A smoking hot feature about pop genius and French God, Serge Gainsbourg, premiered in France this week. If a man is measured by his taste in women and cigarettes then Gainsbourg is the man of the century. The prior, 20th century of course, during which he survived the Nazi occupation of Paris – a Jew, born Lucien Ginsburg – and went on to become the most scandalous chanteur in a country where even the stiffest prude looks like a liberal lunch time wino next to the average American.
“He was our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire.” French President Francois Mitterand said when Gainsbourg died in 1991. “He elevated the song to the level of art.” Yet many of Gainbourg’s songs were about the basest of human experiences – sex, flatulence, sex, Nazi’s, lots of sex. His half undressed “Lemon Incest” duet with then 12 year-old daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, in 1984 was perhaps the height of his scandal – merging his boundary pushing musical prowess with his outrageous public persona into one formidable debacle.
The film, though a biopic, is based on a graphic novel by Joann Sfar, who also helms the film as director. Eric Elmosnino stars and appears well chosen as the tremendously-eared singer. All of the glamorous ladies, Bambou, Bardot, Birkin, are present – indeed Gainsbourg’s love life is every bit as famous as his music, perhaps more so.
Being French is not a positive attribute for an American audience, especially in music – the language and the sound of French singing just do no translate here. Imagine Johnny America, burger in hand, tailgating at the game – “Je t’aime… moi non plus” blasting from his Ford pick-up, truck nuts all a dangle to the beat. No, outside of music heads and a handful of Francophiles, Gainsbourg’s music is not well known here, but perhaps some of his pin-up lovers are.
My favorite, British actress and singer Jane Birkin, mother of Charlotte was Gainsbourg’s main muse. Their love affair is the stuff of legend. Birkin is played by British actress Lucy Gordon, who like Birkin was a former model. This is young Lucy’s final role, as she hung herself just shy of her 29th birthday weeks after filming ended in France. No doubt people will speculate as to what it was in the making of the film that lead to her sad demise given the timing.
The film’s titled “Serge Gainsbourg, vie héroïque” with no release date or title for the US as yet. Let’s hope someone picks this up. It appears to be a feast for the ears and a party for the eyes…Incroyable!
International trailer (with English subtitles).
Gainsbourg and Bardot playing “Bonnie and Clyde.”