'Gainsbourg': Portrait of a French pop god

A French pop god, Serge Gainsbourg cavorted with sex bomb Brigitte Bardot, had a long, stormy relationship with the impossibly beautiful Brit Jane Birkin, and produced an eccentric succession of hit records fusing cabaret, jazz, funk, rock, electronica, and folk.

A shape-shifter who grew up Jewish in Nazi-occupied Paris and became a celebrity - a national icon, really - in the late 1960s, Gainsbourg pursued his muse, and his muses, with passion and cool.

And Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, Joann Sfar's whimsically affectionate biopic, captures that passion and cool in spades. Starting off, as these things do, with the subject as child, this surprisingly mesmerizing movie shows young Lucien Ginsberg (Kacey Mottet Klein) putting the moves on grown women and putting his bold imaginings on paper, in finely wrought, funny cartoons.

Sfar takes these caricature images and literally brings them to life. By the time Lucien has transformed to Serge, a cigarette-smoking lounge pianist and habitué of Paris' boho boîtes, a Gainsbourg alter-ego - a freaky, outsized puppet with a hook nose and giant, elongated fingers - is following him everywhere he goes.

Gainsbourg is portrayed winningly by Eric Elmosnino, who sports a stubbly beard and an air of kicked-back certitude. The supermodel Laetitia Casta does a convincing Bardot (a scene with Gainsbourg and Bardot rehearsing their soon-to-be international hit, "Bonnie and Clyde," is killer.) And Lucy Gordon has no difficulty showing us how Gainsbourg tumbled deeply into love with the model and actress Birkin. (Sadly, Gordon died two years ago, in Paris, at 28.)

In short, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is a charmer.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies.


Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Directed by Joann Sfar. With Doug Jones, Dinara Drukarova, Mylène Jampanoï, Razvan Vasilescu, Lucy Gordon, Eric Elmosnino, Sara Forestier, Laetitia Casta, Kacey Mottet Klein, Anna Mouglalis. Distributed by Music Box Films.

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().