A viewer who comes into "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life" knowing nothing about Serge Gainsbourg will not come out the other side especially enlightened about the late French-Jewish singer-songwriter's life, least of all why it is heroic.
While Sfar doesn't dare tinker with the facts or sully the mystique, he gains enormous traction via the imaginative and subversive manner he has devised to tell a story that, in many ways, is hard to believe.
A sloggy fantasia about Gainsbourg's life featuring such oddities as a giant, hook-nosed puppet that acts as the singer's alter ego, as well as a parade of showy sequences involving grand Gainsbourg amours Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin.
Unconventional, imaginative, nothing if not audacious, "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life" is a portrait of creativity from the inside, a serious yet playful attempt to find an artistic way to tell an emotional truth.
Laetitia Casta steals the movie as Bardot, slinking down the hall in a miniskirt and knee-high black boots, leading a dog on a leash, then cavorting nude behind a bedsheet as Gainsbourg knocks out a song on the piano.
Still, for all the 40-year-old filmmaker's interpolated animations and puppets, for the insouciant, slapdash tone that characterizes his graphic novels, and for his protagonist's proclivity for scandal, the movie is too timidly conceived by half.
Both evocative and faithful in its depiction of the famed French singer's lascivious life, Gainsbourg (vie heroique) offers up a feast of memorable chansons and an almost endless parade of drop-dead-gorgeous muses.