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The untold story of a musical icon. 

Year: 2010 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Joann Sfar 
Starring: Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Doug Jones  
An image from Gainsbourg

Gainsbourg is the debut film from artist Joann Sfar, who adapted his own graphic novel into this fascinating and frightening biopic on the life of French musician and controversial celebrity Serge Gainsbourg. Hardly known in Britain but massively successful in France in the 1970s, Gainsbourg was notorious for his short temper, his drinking and smoking, and his frequent liaisons with actresses and singers. Played by the excellent Elmosnino, Gainsbourg's career and personal life are explored in depth, helped by a strong all-round cast including a wonderful Lucy Gordon as his long-suffering wife and muse Jane Birkin and Laetitia Casta evocatively and erotically capturing the spirit of Gainsbourg's lover Brigitte Bardot.

Despite all this, however, Gainsbourg's greatest strength is that it deviates from the traditional biographical format. We are shown glimpses of the hero's life, but the moments are often anachronistic and subjective. The film's subtitle, "a fairytale", draws attention to the impressionistic details that make up many of the film's most interesting moments. The most striking is the silent alter ego who appears at Gainsbourg's side throughout, a puppet that represents his past, his Judaism and his self-doubt, presented as a grotesque caricature.

Of course, no biopic can fit in every defining moment of its subject's life, and Gainsbourg is no exception. To fans of the singer there are some glaring omissions, and less desirable aspects of his personality, such as his arguable misogyny, are glossed over or ignored. Altogether though, Gainsbourg is one of the most interesting and daring films of this year, bolstered by remarkably strong performances and an often striking visual style, which complement perfectly the music and the personality of the great Serge Gainsbourg.

Elliot Tume

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Screenings of this film:

2010/2011 Spring Term (35mm)