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Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life **

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Singer and composer Serge Gainsbourg (1928–1991) was a culture totem in France, but Joann Sfar’s partly fantasized tribute film loses something in trans-Atlantic translation. Based on Sfar’s graphic novel, this quirky homage is vivid in early scenes of Jewish child Lucien Ginsburg, boyishly teasing anti-Semites in Nazi-occupied Paris. The antic and artistic imp (Kacey Mottet Klein) is reminiscent of zany Zazie in Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Métro, and he has a comical alter-ego — a bloated fascist caricature of a Jew, visualized as a giant puppet, Lucien’s personal riposte to his fears.

Whimsy withers when Lucien grows into adult Serge (Eric Elmosnino), a hard-smoking, wine-and-wenches guy who seems both cocky and scared. He is pushed from painting into music by a new, imaginary muse whose hook nose could have embarrassed even Fagin in Oliver Twist. The movie flaunts famous women: Juliette Gréco (Anna Mouglalis), Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), wife Jane Birkin (the late Lucy Gordon). All are ripe and ready to give scrawny Serge some well-fleshed comfort. Gainsbourg, a mutt and a runt, remains more pampered and provocative than heroic.

Reviewed in the movie capsules: Back Door Channels, The Muppets, The Other F Word.

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