Gainsbourg (15)

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The Independent Culture

The life of the French musician and provocateur Serge Gainsbourg is given a suitably antic treatment in Joann Sfar's half- admiring, half-satiric cine-portrait.

Starting with Gainsbourg's Jewish boyhood in Nazi-occupied Paris, it introduces us to the huge-hootered marionette that shadows him either as alter ego or damning self-image – or both. Yet however tormented he may have felt by his ugliness, Serge (Eric Elmosnino) seems never to have lacked for glamorous women: Juliette Gréco and Brigitte Bardot cosied up to his piano stool, hoping to play the muse. The unfortunate aspect, to British ears at least, is the poverty of Gainsbourg's music, a mishmash of sub-Aznavour ballads, daft pop and gormless rock, the single jewel amid the paste being "Je t'aime..." and its lovely, uncoiling line of Hammond organ. (The film suggests he wrote it for Bardot, not for Jane Birkin, his ex-wife and accompanist.) Elmosnino, permanently adorned by a smoky aureola of Gitanes, is rattily plausible as Gainsbourg, sadder and seedier towards the end as he sploshes into drunken exhibitionism. The film shows off a bit, ready to play the fool but reluctant to examine anything deeply: we never discover how, for instance, he managed to elude the Nazis. It's a brave variation on the biopic, but not a compelling one.