Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women is a story that tells itself. There's an epic's worth of turbulent romanticism in the still photos of a blissful and radiant Gainsbourg and Bardot recording the original, suppressed version of "Je t'aime ... moi non plus," and the television footage of a cynical Gainsbourg and a brash, irrepressibly coltish Birkin discussing their version of the song. The man himself says that he came up with both "Je t'aime" and "Bonnie and Clyde" in a single night after Bardot said (commanded?), "Write me the most beautiful song you can imagine." Thanks to "Je t'aime," Gainsbourg's name is irrevocably associated with sex. But as anecdotes from Greco and Birkin make clear, he'd just as soon stay up all night talking and drinking with a woman. Instead of orgiastic pleasures, Gainsbourg and Birkin's first night in a hotel concluded with her gifting a 45 of Ohio Express' "Yummy Yummy Yummy" (as in "I got love in my tummy") to Gainsbourg as he slept.
In focusing on Gainsbourg's relationships with female singers, Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women ignores his musical partnerships with men, most notably Jean-Claude Vannier, with whom he composed and arranged many of his greatest works. But Forneri's movie arrives at a time when another wave of interest in Gainsbourg is growing in the U.S. and other countries outside France. The past few years have seen Light in the Attic reissue some of Gainsbourg's greatest recordings, such as 1971's Histoire de Melody Nelson, the 1969 album version of Je t'aime (which contains Birkin's "Jane B," the model for vocals by Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof, and countless others), and Birkin's 1973 solo debut, Di Doo Dah. This month, a new compilation of Gainsbourg's pre-starlet compositions, Discograph's Le claquer de mots, shines light on the big-eared outsider right before he hit the pop jackpot. If the 1990s saw a surface-level revival of Gainsbourg the cult icon, today, his eternal return runs deeper.
GAINSBOURG, THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN
Sat/5, 2:30 p.m., Roxie;
Sun/6, 9:15 p.m., Roxie