Laetitia Casta and Eric Elmosnino can’t save overwrought Gainsbourg.
GAINSBOURG (Joann Sfar). 130 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (September 16). See listing. Rating: NN
You can't say Gainsbourg lacks vision. It's got vision to spare, really. That's the problem.
Recounting the life of French cultural icon Serge Gainsbourg, whose ennui-laced musical stylings defined European cool for a generation raised on jazz and Godard, graphic novelist Joann Sfar adopts an ambitious, surrealistic style that turns incidents from his subject's life into visual metaphors, presenting Gainsbourg's life as Sfar imagines he experienced it.
The result plays like Olivier Dahan's exasperating Edith Piaf biopic, La Vie En Rose, on mushrooms. In scenes of the young artist-to-be (played as a lad by Kasey Mottet Klein) knocking around occupied France, he's accompanied by a giant anti-Semitic caricature from a propaganda poster. (No, it doesn't make a lot of sense.)
Next, he's in his 20s and played by Eric Elmosnino, sullenly working in a piano bar and bringing dates to Salvador Dalí's flat. As he moves toward his curious stardom, he's followed everywhere by a spindly doppelgänger with Max Schreck fingertips who taunts our hero about his limits and dances around on fire, just because.
The whole movie's like that. Sfar tries to cram so much into 130 minutes - Laetitia Casta as Bardot! Lucy Gordon as Jane Birkin! Art! Entropy! - that the effect is exhausting. Gainsbourg never really digs into its subject, but that may be because it sees him in two dimensions.