Saga of a tormented artist's highs and lows

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The Independent Culture

Great songs, beautiful girls, lovely costumes and an artist in constant flux are emphasised in Joann Sfar's imaginative, beautiful looking and at times bizarre musing on the life of Serge Gainsbourg.

Starting off in conventional style with a young Gainsbourg (Kacey Mottet Klein) frolicking on the beach and being forced into playing the piano by a seemingly tyrannical father (Razvan Vasilescu), the action quickly jumps into the abstract when a giant animated puppet appears lying beside the young Jewish boy in his bed as he's being told about the Nazi threat.

By the time we see Gainsbourg as an adult (a delightful turn from Eric Elmosnino) a puppet doppelganger (Doug Jones hidden behind a hooked nose and big-eared mask) follows the chain-smoking artist everywhere. The puppet is the devil inside the artist, although Sfar notes that Gainsbourg doesn't ever need much encouragement to provoke and agitate. He is painted as the ultimate rebel constantly suffering from an identity crisis.

First-time director Sfar is best known as a comic book artist and the animation has a childlike quality that captures the abstract nature of artistic inspiration. But for the most part the emphasis is on the man suffering from inner demons. The performance of Elmonsnino has something of Peter Sellers about it as he flits between humour, sadness and anger with consummate ease.

Sfar's thesis is that it was the women in Gainsbourg's life that inspired him most and it's to them that Gainsbourg sings his songs, or occasionally those of Charles Aznavour. For the uninitiated it's a great introduction to his music.

The girls and everything that surrounds them, including furniture, clothes and colours all look like they've been taken from the pages of a high-end magazine. It's Laetitia Casta playing sex kitten-era Bardot that makes the biggest impression of the actresses. And the episodic nature of the action that jumps back to his days growing up in the war combined with the look at the artist in crisis is reminiscent in structure of Federico Fellini's masterpiece La Dolce Vita.