Gainsbourg is an enthusiastic attempt to capture the life and times of French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. The film mixes fact and fantasy in the spirit of Gainsbourg himself, and there are clever animated bits and vaguely disturbing puppets tucked into the story to keep things interesting.
But, alas. The film mostly hops from event to event in Gainsbourg's life, leading a viewer through the man's fascinating existence but never really capturing the appeal or the maverick spirit.
Born Lucien Ginsburg in Paris in 1928, the future singer/songwriter is depicted here as a talented artist and a precocious child. His father urges him to play the piano. Women interest him from an early age. He sees himself, while still a little boy, as a poet, painter and great lover. As events prove, he wasn't far off the mark.
Gainsbourg and his family were Jews and were eventually forced to leave Paris during the Nazi occupation. One of the film's most moving scenes has the adult Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) playing music after the war with children whose parents never came back to Paris from the camps.
The film covers a sort of whirlwind musical evolution, from the classical music his father emphasized through jazz and blues and cabaret songs and pop. Gainsbourg marries, but interested women still write to him at his parents' house. To indicate his string of lovers and/or his influence on popular music, various actresses flee through the narrative: Here's Anna Mouglalis as Juliette Greco and Sara Forestier as France Gall, with Brigitte Bardot look-alike Laetitia Casta standing in for the iconic blond and, later, Lucy Gordon playing Jane Birkin.
The man was busy.
So then came fame and fortune and Bardot. And then came a brief period of domestic bliss with Birkin, but Gainsbourg had already begun a long, slow, downward slide fuelled by drugs and alcohol and too much of everything. In this film, that downfall is a tad generic.
Gainsbourg is a noble attempt and interesting enough to keep you watching, but it's bound to disappoint fans of the singer's and possibly will confuse any newcomer to the story. While it's great that the movie doesn't become hagiography, it doesn't really convey Gainsbourg's legendary status in France or his place in the world o' music.