Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter
We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.
In the beginning, Lucien Ginsberg is a mischievous child, and in the end, Serge Gainsbourg is a debauched old man, but Joann Sfar’s riff on the notorious French pop provocateur is anything but a standard biopic. Fine, so it doesn’t explode the idiom as boisterously as the Bob Dylan-inspired I’m Not There—for starters, the plot of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is linear, and it details events that, you know, actually happened—but it’s just as uninterested in the ascents, falls, and string-swelling redemptions that biopics usually peddle. Instead, Gainsbourg is a story of creativity and artifice, of how history, upbringing, insecurity, and inspiration combined to make possible one man’s music and persona. Selectively, of course: Some of Gainsbourg’s relationships seem to pass by in seconds while his affair with Brigitte Bardot climaxes with a delirious, lengthy, and sexy bedside rehearsal session. A Jew, Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) came of age in Nazi-occupied France and later invoked anti-Semitic themes in his art, and Sfar approaches that tricky dichotomy by anthropomorphizing it: A beak-nosed, monkey-eared doppelgänger emerges from one of Gainsbourg’s drawings early in the film, prodding and taunting the songwriter through a string of affairs, benders, and musical epiphanies—which are soundtracked just as manically by Gainsbourg’s compositions, from innuendo-laden chanson to a scandalous reggae version of “La Marseillaise.” If in the end the takeaway is familiar—creating such great art required no small amount of self-loating—that’s OK. It’s the art part that lasts.
The film shows all week at West End Cinema, 2301 M. St. NW. $11. (202) 419-3456.