I was curious about this movie, directed and designed by Joann Sfar, a cartoonist. A little talkative, always original and with a drawing style of his own, sketchy and messy. Beautiful actually. His comics can deal with philosophy or horror movies as well as talmudism, sex, cats, everyday life, musketeers or almost any topic that exists, always-inserting digressions and digressions in the digressions and digressions inside the digressions inside the digressions. It is always pleasant to read.
Serge Gainsbourg, for those who don t know him, was a major character in pop culture in France from the early 1960’s until his death in the late 80’s, a strange composer and musician that was a complex mix of shyness and provocation, really ahead of his time with pop culture, repulsive and seductive, depressed and auto destructive. Well, he was Serge Gainsbourg.
What would be the outcome of a movie by the first about the second ?
Joann Sfar claimed that he did not want an academic biopic looking after the best look alike actor in conventional sequences. The key sentence being that he is not interested in Gainsbourgs’ truths but rather in his lies.
The trouble is that he has to remind us that in the ending credits of the movie, a clue, I guess, that he failed to reach his agenda. Sfar tried to transpose on screen his luxuriant style, but in the end, it is only a succession of small sequences, set the one after the other and who all deal with Serge Gainsbourg encounters with famous people.
In the chronological order.
So, after a rather original beginning about Gainsbourg youth in WW2, we have the Fréhel sequence, the Boris Vian sequence, the Juliette Greco sequence, the France Gall sequence, the Brigitte Bardot sequence, the Jane Birkin sequence, the Bambou sequence… Some of these are rather good. But the narration of the movie is actually very conventional, even if some of the content is not conventional in itself.
And at the end, it is an academic biopic filled with look alike characters sounding fake. Exactly at the opposite of Star’s claimed intents.
He still introduces some fantastic elements, with animatronics/puppets that embody parts of Gainsbourg obsessions/strongest fears/identity troubles. It could be a great idea, Gainsbourg dealing with his darkest self, at the end the identities reuniting, or not, and the consequences of it. But it is very loose and the film seems to have no unity.
To be honest, I understand it better watching the DVD with Joann Sfar commentary. A little infatuated of himself in what he says, but at last I was able to understand the movie he intended to do. And it sounds much like Sfar’s comics. Now, having seen both, I would recommend watching the movie with the director’s commentary rather than with the dialogues…
Because of this, I guess it must sometimes be hard to follow for those who have no idea who Gainsbourg was, because very little is explained about his truth or his lies, or anything else actually. We can see a depressed fellow seducing famous women and smoking cigarettes (this movie must set a world record about smoking cigarettes, I never saw that much smoke on a screen, you can almost smell it) , sometimes dialoguing with a puppet about the way of seducing women and earn easy money, or not.
It is not bad, not good. The photography is beautiful, there is moments of high originality.
Maybe the flaw is that Joann Sfar is not a professional director, it is his first movie. He would have liked to direct like he draws, following his intuitions and the errands of his unbelievable imagination.
Maybe it is not possible on a cinema screen, or he lacked the experience. Or maybe it is that the producers of the movie were too cautious, asking him to cool off his ambitions, fearing that the audience wouldn’t follow.
I don’t know, this gives the feeling of a bottle half full/half empty. They dared to try something highly original; they didn’t dare to complete the process, ending up with something beautiful but empty.
Still, I would give it a 3, for it is worth seeing.
The openings credits are very beautiful.
Another thing, the animatronics/puppets are by the DDT SFX Crew, famous for its works on other movies like the Labyrinth of Pan or Hellboy. I seem to be one of my kind, but I think I don t really like their style. It seemed better in Labyrinth of Pan and Hellboy, but in this Gainsbourg, the facial expressions are a bit static, frozen. And it is too smooth, I would have liked something more chaotic, less Disney-like. But as I say, I seem to be the only on earth having this opinion about this crew’s animatronics style, and obviously they are a great team of great professionals in puppet making and animation, so forgive me:’(