Film Review: Gainsbourg By Gainsbourg - An Intimate Self Portrait (2012)

on Saturday, November 17, 2012
'Gainsbourg By Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self-Portrait'/'Je Suis Venu Vous Dire...Gainsbourg By Ginzburg' (UK Release: TBC) // Words: Saam Das

Iconic French pop star Serge Gainsbourg has inspired two films in recent years surrounding his life and career - 2010's 'Gainsbourg' and this latest effort from director Pierre-Henry Salfati. This biopic pieces together archive footage, including performances throughout Gainsbourg's career, with a narration comprised solely from interviews with the artist himself.

The documentary is book-ended by striking footage from the musician's concert at Paris' Zenith venue in 1989, just two years before his death, aged 62. The Gainsbourg quote "my fame destroys me" is the over-riding emotion here, as we see the artist looking far from in good health, yet his adoring audience nonetheless inspiring him to perform. It's just one of many conflicts explored in 'Gainsbourg By Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self Portrait'.

The original French title perhaps vivifies the conflict of his identities more appropriately - 'Je Suis Venu Vous Dire...Gainsbourg By Ginzburg' - reflecting his birth name, Lucien Ginsburg (sometimes Ginzburg), the man behind the celebrity. Pierre-Henry Salfati uniquely uses Gainsbourg's own self-reflections to explore his character and life - from his affecting relationship with his Jewish pianist father to his curious misogyny.

The documentary doesn't particularly cater well to those unfamiliar with the work of Serge Gainsbourg - unsurprisingly being somewhat restricted by the expository narration available. Indeed, with special access to previously unreleased Gainsbourg's home video footage, this will perhaps appeal most to his continuing legion of fans worldwide.

Nonetheless, seminal periods of his life are covered from his duets and fling with Brigitte Bardot, France Gall's controversial 'Les Sucettes', and his long term relationship with Jane Birkin. Elsewhere, there are surprisingly sweet moments with his pet dog, Nana, and his young son, Lulu - a contrast to the man's usual cool, and perhaps even eerily detached, demeanour.

Gainsbourg By Gainsbourg - An Intimate Self Portrait adopts an impressively pain-staking technique to produce a truly unique biopic of one of the most fascinating pop stars in history. Unfortunately, its self-reflective technique also restricts the portrait of Gainsbourg, consistently overplaying subtlety and reducing coherence amid the special archive footage.


'Gainsbourg By Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self-Portrait' had its UK premiere at Ciné Lumiere during the UK Jewish Film Festival 2012, which concludes tomorrow.

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