Actor Eric Elmosnino uncannily slips into the two-sided personality of French painter/jazz musician/singer/songwriter and filmmaker Serge Gainsbourg (father of 21 Grams actress Charlotte) of in this stylish, fantastical, fractured biopic.
Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (fully subtitled) might not have the subtlety to be less fulsome and perhaps overstaying its welcome while immersing one into the proclivities of a scary bad-boy with over-the-top antics.
Like the poignant La Vie En Rose there is an episodic feel for a controversial artist who displayed much talent in many musical forms in experimenting, known for heavy drinking and smoking, in addition to attracting some well-known lovers.
An amusing animated opening credits rolls into young Lucien Ginsburg (Kacey Mottet-Klein) raised in Nazi-occupied Paris. His mind lets hideous figures from an anti-Semitic poster act with imaginary verve in his life. The loathsome boy in one memorable scene confronts a Nazi for his yellow star.
Elmosnino later appears for good as the tumultuous, long-nosed art school student and piano player under the pseudonym Serge Gainsbourg. He'll achieve much stardom when noted vocalists like France Gall (Sara Forestier) and beatnik (Anna Mouglalis of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky) achieve much success with his songs.
As Elmosnino commands much attention through the character's narcissism and self-loathing in an eventful, if too selective narrative, noticeable backup appears from the late Lucy Gordon as Jane Birkin and Laetitia Casta as the voluptuous Brigitte Bardot. When the latter is about to pop up for some tea, Serge's father (Razvan Vasilescu) becomes a little emotional which offers an amusing, natural touch. And, Doug Jones (known from his work with dynamic director Guillermo del Toro) is coiffed in paper-mache as a darker alter-ego La Gueule interestingly serving as a marionette.
A famous Gainsbourg's tune may resonate more for more discerning audiences who'll be taken away by the soundtrack. The key for A Heroic Life where alcoholism eventually takes is the direction of Joann Sfar who boldly and often effectively employs his cartoonist background in a creatively pointed and surreal way. The result probably won't nearly have the wider appeal and impact that Marion Cotillard had through her amazing embodiment of Edith Piaf with its manner of blurring fact and fiction. But, after watching this show-stopping, mostly quality entertainment it's clear that Elmosnino was more than right for this lascivious Russian Jew.
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