Letter From Paris: A French Idol and His Daughter

03/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Beth Arnold Author & Founder, an Exile Returned From Paris

The biopic of Serge Gainsbourg, titled Gainsbourg (Vie Heroique), has opened in Paris, and the French are flocking to see it like Americans used to beat it to Woody Allen movies. (That is before Woody basically had an affair with and married his adopted daughter and became his natural born son's brother-in-law....Not to mention his films were getting a little boring.)

Unknown French actor Eric Elmosnino is playing Gainsbourg, who remains a beloved figure in France, and the actor's resemblance to the singer/actor is said to be uncanny. The film covers Gainsbourg's entire life and is getting some criticism for the inclusion of M. Gainsbourg's alter ego (representing his insecurity about his looks) as a cartoon that speaks to him.

I haven't seen the film yet--but why not, I say? The alter ego sounds cool to me. I'll have to watch the film before I make my final judgment, but I can see this mixture of medias could add excitement as well as enhance the story and mood.

Gainsbourg was a chain smoker of Gitanes, which added to his mystique and image. The alternate movie title to go with the alter ego could be "Have Gitane Will Travel." See movie poster below:


According to Time:

Gainsbourg's life story is a natural fit for the movies because he redefined himself every decade, from the clean-cut but gangly chanson française jazz singer of the 1950s to the envelope-pushing, rock-'n'-roll ladies' man of the late '60s and then the washed-up, alcoholic reggae and synth-pop performer of the '80s.


From Reuters:

He was not conventionally handsome but had a louche charm that attracted some of the most celebrated beauties of the age and he did his best to live up to his debauched reputation as a rake and lothario.

His most famous hit, "Je t'aime moi non plus" ("I love you, me neither"), built around a languorous melody and the ecstatic sighs of Jane Birkin, the English actress who became his third wife, was denounced by the Vatican and banned on the BBC.

The song was originally recorded by Brigitte Bardot (played in the film by Laetitia Casta), but France's most famous sex symbol then thought better of it and the version she made was kept under wraps for more than 15 years.

M. Gainsbourg along with his wife Jane Birkin (yes, the Birkin bag was named for her) are celebrity aristocracy in France, and their ever-so-talented daughter, Charlotte, has inherited her parents' claim to fame along with their genes for talent.

Here she is with Beck:

Rest in peace, Serge Gainsbourg. I hope Charlotte and your other children feel this film captures you well and true.

For more Serge Gainsbourg info:

For a Vanity Fair article with Charlotte Gainsbourg giving an exclusive tour of her father's house in Paris, click here.

For Gainsbourg: Le Film, Le Blog, click here.

P.S. IS SERGE GAINSBOURG on your radar? What does his music mean to you? If you've seen the movie, what do you think?

UPDATE 1/28/2010: I've made the correction of Serge Gainsbourg smoking Gitane cigarettes rather than Gauloise (see comments below). My source for Gauloise was the above referenced Time article. Evidently, Time was wrong.

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to