GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE
Starring Eric Elmosnino, Laetitia Casta, Anna Mouglalis, Lucy Gordon
Directed and Written by Joann Sfar
Produced by Marc du Pontavice and Didier Lupfer
César Awards 2011
Winner: Best First Film – Joann Sfar
Winner: Best Actor – Eric Elmosnino
Official Selection – 2011
Palm Springs International Film Festival
Seattle International Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival 2010
Winner: Best Actor – Eric Elmosnino
COLCOA Film Festival 2010
Special Mention by Jury for his Performance – Eric Elmosnino
Once upon a time, a young boy, Lucien, walked up and down the streets of Paris, proudly showing off the abominable yellow star pinned to his jacket. It’s 1941.
When this child of Russian-Jewish parents with a cheeky sparkle in his eyes crosses paths with the pro-Nazi French militia, he starts singing The Marseillaise anthem alongside them… even though he doesn‘t quite know the words.
Then something stops young Lucien short – anti-Semitic propaganda featuring a caricature of a Jew. It’s an ugly face that resembles him a bit too closely. A face pinned up to be seen and scorned by all.
He wants to run away or erase the grotesque face but does neither. The caricature suddenly comes to life, pops out of the wall and starts to follow the boy. From that point on, the ugly face will never leave his side. It will be his shadow, his curse, his inspiration, his only companion, his alter ego.
Though he doesn’t know it yet, little Lucien will one day be known as Serge Gainsbourg.
This tale recounts the life of a hero. It’s about a young boy who goes around occupied Paris spouting out words as though he were putting flowers in a gun barrel. Forty years later, he provokes a major upheaval at a concert in Strasbourg where he is supposed to sing a Jamaican reggae version of The Marseillaise. The concert hall is sacked by the military, and the black musicians don’t even dare to come on stage. Gainsbourg became a true legend by winning over France with his subversive wit.
It’s a tale of conquest. A passionate lover despite his awkward face, Gainsbourg lures the mythic Brigitte Bardot into his bed. He seduces Jane Birkin while taking a swim in his French flag underpants and convinces Juliette Greco to waltz with him barefoot in the wee hours of the morning. These legendary women all, without exception, sing the poetic insanities he writes for them.
It’s a tale of duels. The most deadly of them pitting Gainsbourg against his alter ego, Ugly Face, a bony, feline man/marionette who jealously watches over his love affairs and reminds him of his repressed humiliations whenever he is at the brink of happiness. Ugly Face is a cunning jester, always present to help and hinder the creative process, haunting the poet/singer’s nights and never granting him peace of mind.
It’s a tale in which Gainsbourg evolves from being a starving painter to the master of the French pop song. His music grabs the narrative reins, transforming a plump wife into a Hippopodame (a lady hippopotamus) and an adulterous and passionate evening into a worldwide hit, Je t’aime, moi non plus (I love you, neither do I). And so to tell the story of this master of provocation, this manipulator of words and women, of this shy but avid adventurer, let’s swap straight talk for wild rhymes and prepare to dive into the Paris of the swinging sixties to take part in a story as audacious as the risks that made little Lucien… Serge Gainsbourg.
About Writer-Director Joann Sfar
August 28th, 1971: Joann Sfar is born in Nice to an Ashkenazi mother and a Sephardic father, a pencil in hand. He very quickly begins to collect comic books and cultivates a bazaar full of quirky characters and funny monsters.
After graduating from high school, he simultaneously pursues a degree in philosophy at the University of Nice (he graduates with honors) and takes classes with Jean-François Debord at the School of Fine Arts in the Morphology department in Paris. These classes take him from autopsy rooms to the Museum of Natural History, where he finds monster-like creatures floating in formaldehyde.
As a teenager, he knocked on the doors of famous comic book artists, who would later on become his guardian angels. He also knocked on the doors of publishers, who finally respond in 1994: during the same month, L’Association, Delcourt and Dargaud decide to publish his first comic books.
In just a few years, the young man who had been criticized for his lack of talent becomes one of the leaders of the “new wave” of comic book art along with Christophe Blain, Lewis Trondheim and Emmanuel Guibert. He makes less formal and less commercial drawings and makes the storytelling a priority. Joann and these other leading artists manage to appeal to a much wider audience.
Sfar, either alone or in collaboration with other artists, has created over 150 comic books, some novels and animated films, amongst them a prize-winning video clip for the rock band Dionysos (Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2006). That same year, he received an Eisner Award for The Rabbi’s Cat (was previously nominated for Klezmer and Vampire Loves) as well as the Jury Prize at Angoulême International Comics Festival. He is nominated for another Eisner Award this year in the Best Adaptation from Another Work category for his adaptation of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
He is best known in the United States for his children’s books, Little Vampire Goes to School, which was on The New York Times best-seller list and Little Vampire does Kung Fu! (also nominated for an Eisner Award in 2004). Sfar is currently adapting Little Vampire Goes to School into an English-language 3D animation feature. He has already adapted his award-winning graphic novel Rabbi’s Cat (co-directed with Antoine Delesvaux) into a feature length animated film which was released in France in early June and features the voice of actor Eric Elmosnino (star of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life).
Sfar is also an editor for Gallimard’s Bayou collection and Citizen Films has produced a documentary about him, Joann Sfar Draws from Memory.
Somehow he still manages to find time to play the ukulele, the mandolin, the harmonica, and claims that his violin teacher finds that he has a way with his bow! He lives in Paris with his wife, two children, and cat.
While his literary world borrows heavily from prominent French Jewish authors such as Romain Gary and Albert Cohen, the intelligence of his drawings makes him an heir to Ronald Searle, Quentin Blake and Hugo Pratt. “Not bad, not bad at all” as Gainsbourg used to say….
Serge Gainsbourg – Eric Elmosnino
Jane Birkin – Lucy Gordon
Brigitte Bardot – Laetitia Casta
La Gueule – Doug Jones
Juliette Gréco – Anna Mouglalis
Bambou – Mylène Jampanoï
France Gall – Sara Forestier
Lucien Ginsburg – Kacey Mottet-Klein
Joseph Ginsburg – Razvan Vasilescu
Olga Ginsburg – Dinara Droukarova
Boris Vian – Philippe Katerine
Elisabeth – Deborah Grall
Fréhel – Yolande Moreau
The model – Ophélia Kolb
Gainsbourg’s record producer – Claude Chabrol
Headmaster – François Morel
Lucky Sarcelles – Philippe Duquesne
Gypsy guitarist – Angelo Debarre
Phyphy – Grégory Gadebois
Judith – Alice Carel
Les Frères Jacques – Le Quatuor
France Gall’s father – Roger Mollien
Directed by Joann Sfar
Written by Joann Sfar
Produced by Marc du Pontavice Didier Lupfer
Executive producer Matthew Gledhill
Casting by Stéphane Batut
Director of Photography Guillaume Schiffman
Production designer Christian Martí
Costume designer Pascaline Chavanne
Special effects by David Martí Montse Ribé
Make-up artist Gill Robillard
Musical arrangements by Olivier Daviaud