Saturday, September 3, 2011

Joann Sfar: Ne'er Do Well for a New Wave (Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life)

Laeitia Casta, Eric Elmosnino, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, Music Box Films, 2011.

Musical icon Serge Gainsbourg's careening life was equally matched by his textured artistic output. Any filmmaker would seem to be daunted at the task of bringing his story to the screen, but French graphic novelist Joann Sfar rejoices in many shades of cool, adapting his own print work representation of the master's existence.

Sfar has found his Serge in Eric Elmosnino, an actor who not only looks almost exactly like their protagonist, but who turns out to be an excellent actor in his own right. Elmosnino's ability to inhabit the body and mind of Gainsbourg makes us believe in magic even more than Sfar's surreal visualizations of Gainsbourg's dreams and conscience.

The entire affair drips with a Gallic artiness which overtakes one like breaths of thick incense. The deep-hued cinematography by Guillame Schiffman lends alot to the strangely intoxicating combination of hip history and hallucinogenic fantasy. Sfar's triumph is, ultimately, his ability to thread diverging elements and themes into a hypnotic whole. The realization of his culty graphic novel as an important bio-pic is inspiring to behold.

Gainsbourg's music, in all of its multi-layered enchantment, fuels the fevered images of the film, and keeps it adrift in many narrative snags it hits along the way. There is no denying that for a film debut, Gainsbourg is massively impressive. It's shifts and shades belie an artistry which is hard to come by in current cinema.

Aside from Elmosnino's possessed lead, which is one of the best pieces of acting to come at us recently, the women in his life play an equally important part. Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Mylene Jampanoi and Anna Mouglalis all light up the screens in an incendiary fashion. Sfar's ability to pull what he saw out of these excellent actresses and transform them into 1960s sexpots is mind blowing. They purr and coo and yet locate the hearts of these women. It is a delicate but hard won balance.

The fantasy sequences utilize CGI and stop motion animation, and the fusion of two far flung techniques uniting in one film is oddly exhilerating, as is the entire affair. The pitch between drama and unconsciousness is near-perfectly achieved and well suited to the life of this new wave ne'er do well and the imagination and passion he ignited.

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