Film Review: Gainsbourg, vie héroïque

Prior to watching Gainsbourg, vie héroïque, I knew very little about Serge Gainsbourg. I knew he was French, wrote some naughty songs (including the sultry “Je t’aime…moi non plus”) and that he had a daughter named Charlotte who is an actress (Science of Sleep) and also a musician. But other than that, I didn’t know much. That’s where Gainsbourg, vie héroïque filled in the gaps. Well, some of the gaps.

Gainsbourg, vie héroïque is a Serge Gainsbourg biopic showing the French pop icon’s rise from hiding as an imaginative, outgoing and artistic child from the Nazis during their occupation of France, to his decision to abandon his art talents in favor of writing songs and bedding famous and beautiful women (including no less than Brigitte Bardot) and eventually his downward slide fueled by alcohol.

Writer and director Joann Sfar apparently based the film on his graphic novel and the influence is clearly seen. For someone not particularly interested in such things (like myself), it can be a bit odd at times although the effects are extremely well done, adding comic effect and alluding to Gainsbourg’s dark and private sides. At other times the film can seem like a musical. Take for example a drawn out scene depicting a songwriting session between Gainsbourg and Bardot, the latter clad only in a bed sheet. The film also briefly touches on Gainsbourg’s later years as he goes reggae and, among other things, records a reggae version of the French national anthem. To put it lightly, that didn’t go over quite so well in France.

As with any film based on a true story, there’s always a lot of things left out (although didn’t they make some biopic on Che that was insanely long and released in two parts? I digress…). Actor Éric Elmosnino, in particular, does a great job depicting Gainsbourg. For a non-French viewer not already well acquainted with Gainsbourg, it was sometimes difficult to follow but the overall story was fascinating, moving and incredibly interesting. It’s definitely one worth checking out for fans of retro pop.

(As an aside, I’d like to mention I really love trailers for foreign films that are edited so that you aren’t aware that they’re in a foreign language.)


In a previous life, Corinne ran a music website. After going strong for a decade, the site went on a hiatus. Consider her the antiTastemaker.