A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Serge Gainsbourg was one of the great performing artists of France from the 1960s until his death in 1991, but despite the title of "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life," I am not sure he was heroic, and I don't believe this film does, either.
He was a star more because of his insouciant, defiant personality than for the quality of his voice, and a genius in getting himself into scrapes. His most notable controversy involved his reggae version of "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem. For Americans who loved Jimi Hendrix's guitar version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that doesn't seem like much of a transgression, but the French right-wing didn't get the joke.
Gainsbourg's music was consistently popular, he had international hits, and he had celebrated affairs with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, with whom he fathered the fearless actress Charlotte Gainsbourg ("Antichrist"). With Birkin, he recorded the notorious "Je t'aime ... moi non plus," which apparently included the sound of a woman's orgasm and was denounced by no less than the Vatican. But he never seemed fully respectful of his talent, and in later years, enjoyed notoriety on talk shows as a cut-up who sometimes went on drunk and lashed out at other guests.
Yes, he drank. But his overarching vice was smoking. Starting in this film as a child, he continues apparently nonstop, even in bed and the bath, until his probably inevitable heart attack at 61. His brand of choice was Gitanes, the French cigarettes that scented all of Paris until the success of Marlboros. Someone, it may have been Art Buchwald, said Gitanes were made out of old socks and belly-button lint. I point to Gainsbourg's smoking not to be censorious, but to suggest that when someone endlessly does something harmful, there may be an aura of self-hate involved.