Sunday, October 30, 2011


While the San Francisco Film Society places its finger on the pulse of contemporary French cinema with its ongoing French Cinema Now (affectionately previewed here at The Evening Class by Michael Hawley), the musical yesteryear of France is explored through the personage of Serge Gainsbourg in two projects likewise screening in the Bay Area. First up is the theatrical rollout of Joann Sfar's feature debut Gainsbourg: Vie héroïque (Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, 2010), currently at the Landmark Cinemas. Earlier this year, I spoke with Sfar who noted how beloved Gainsbourg is among the French and—judging from the superlative reviews of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life—it appears his cinematic introduction to the American public has whetted appetites.

What better way to satisfy that new craving than with Gainsbourg, L'Homme Qui Aimait Les Femmes (Gainsbourg: The Man Who Loved Women, 2010), Pascal Forneri's documentary treatment of the controversial career of the beloved
chanteur who elevated the chanson to new lyrical levels? Currently playing at the Roxie, Pamela Alexander-Beutler outlines in their program notes: "The title The Man Who Loved Women references director François Truffaut's 1977 film in which Bertrand tells his own life story. In Gainsbourg: The Man Who Loved Women (Gainsbourg, l'homme qui aimait les femmes) director Pascal Forneri uses the same technique to great effect as Serge Gainsbourg tells his life story through TV clips, interviews, photos, music videos and archival footage. Life as art is made complete with additional interviews by and archival footage of Gainsbourg's muses in this wonderful docudrama. As the title implies, the film chronicles Gainsbourg's love relationships as a lens into his 30+ year career as the French singer-songwriter, actor and director and superstar. His complete disregard for taboos and the delight he took in scandalous behavior made him famous, but his musical genius made him a legend. His relationships served as both inspiration and muse. Because his relationships were such an important part of who he was, Gainsbourg: The Man Who Loved Women exposes not only Gainsbourg's creative genius, but also his charm and passion, his insecurities and vulnerability."

Narrated by actor / writer Pierre Lescure with supplemental scoring by Aphex Twin, Forneri's television documentary excels at providing archival footage of Gainsbourg in action with voiceover recollections by the likes of Caroline von Paulus (aka Bambou), Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Juliette Gréco, Françoise Hardy, Vanessa Paradis, Bernard Pivot and Michel Sardou. In many ways the archival footage speaks for itself and is wholly worth the price of admission. Whereas Joann Sfar's film is a cinematic fantasy of one man's reaction to Gainsbourg, Forneri's treatment is the real thing. Between the two lies a heady measure of enjoyment reserved for San Franciscan Francophiles. Neither are to be missed.

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