French cartoonist Joann Sfar is making the interview rounds this week to promote his directing debut: GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE, a French language film which has already won two Cesar awards (the French Oscar), including best debut film. With a lyrical portrait of the skinny pants icon of a zillion emo hipsters, this film should quickly become a classic from Williamsburg to Portlandia.

Sfar was previously known here for his vibrant, humanist comics, like The Rabbi’s Cat and Little Vampire, but like his fellow L”Association alums Marjane Satrapi and Riad Sattouf, he’s made the jump to film direction with distinction.

Over at Heeb Magazine, Joshua Neuman profiles Sfar:

That’s why you shouldn’t expect Sfar’s Gainsbourg to unfurl like a La Vie En Rose-style music biopic. It is unabashedly expressionistic, hyper-stylized, and is as much about its auteur as it is its subject. It is a period piece that only intends to confer the illusion of period. Think a French, swinging-sixties version of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are—with Gainsbourg playing role of Max and a grotesque Jewish caricature puppet a la the running of the Jew in Borat, and another puppet—a dead ringer for Sesame Street’s “The Count,” as wild things. If you can get over an unabashedly personal take on Gainsbourg’s life, then you are in for a marvelous treat.

There’s another interview at Indiewire:

When did you decide to return to his story?

I had no clue how to write a movie script, but I figured the best way to write his story would be with a graphic novel. My whole story about him is a fantasy, but the whole it is taken from Serge Gainsbourg’s quotes. Almost all the text from the movie comes from him. Some of it is lies, since he was drunk very often and he pretended about many things. So I made the story out of his fantasies, and I did a lot of photo color and sequences. My agents told me, “There’s no way anyone would want to make a movie out of this.” So I sent the sketchbook to the Gainsbourg family, and this time they said, “This is wonderful,” and that we had to make a movie out of it. I have to say that I was the first to be surprised. One could say that it’s because of Serge Gainsbourg that I was allowed to make a movie.


Sfar’s second film came out earlier this year in France: an animated adaptation of his own graphic novel series The Rabbi’s Cat. Trailer below.


  1. I wonder if they show Gainsbourg many drunken rants on live TV, his sexual harassment of random women guests on shows, his implied incest music video with his daughter, burning cash to light his cigars or his general self destructive and abusive behavior. I wonder how that would fare with US audiences. I guess they scrubbed the whole thing clean in a kind of ‘Boheme Paris poet and musical genius’ kinda way.