In Gainsbourg and His Girls, directors Didier Varrod and Pascal Forneri portray Gainsbourg as a contradiction to the provocateur pop star and controversial figure that he led the public to believe.

“He was a shy, complex, prude person, tormented by the aesthetic goals he set for himself,” says director Forneri. “He’s a Wharolian character in the sense that he created a public character than served his artistic message, and preserved, as much as he could, his private life.”

Despite avant-garde beginnings, Gainsbourg quickly became a cherished French icon with popular appeal. “He somewhat embodies a lot of the French obsessions and was able to be at the same time liked by your average Joe and high-brow critics,” explains Forneri. “His songs are part of the French psyche and there isn’t any French composer that has managed to have such a high standard quality all through his body of work.”

This insight of Gainsbourg, the man, lover, and father, is seen through the lens of his female muses in a brilliant footage and interview montage that includes candid interviews with Gainsbourg and his women. Though Gainsbourg was not a conventionally attractive man, he was loved by some of the world’s sexiest and alluring women including Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot, Francois Hardy, Jane Birkin, Anna Karina and Vanessa Paradis.

This documentary arguable expresses a new insight into the ‘real’ Gainsbourg. As Forneri explains, “You get closer to some kind of truth with the actual voices of those women, and have a kaleidoscopic portrait with a focus. Most of the footage comes from French TV archive institute, INA, but we used them in an original manner, ‘colliding’ documents from different periods to make a point.” Melbourne audiences will be able to view never seen before footage such as the Je t’aime version shot in front of the Eiffel Tower that comes from German TV, and photos from the personal collection of Jane Birkin’s brother, Andrew.

According to Forneri, Jane Birkin participated quite generously to the film. “She gave a lengthy interview that she said would be her last on the subject, so we felt quite a responsibility to make it right,” says Forneri. “The fact that she participated opened a lot of doors and basically gave some legitimacy to the project.”

Gainsbourg and his girls makes no claim to providing a complete picture of the life and work of Gainsbourg, instead, it aspires to regale the story of a French legend as true to the memories of the muses who knew him well. And though Gainsbourg may be viewed as a womaniser, and a purveyor of perverse lyrics and bad behaviour, Varrod and Forneri’s account reveals that he was also a shy, insecure man whose public face was often incongruous with his personal life.

Gainsbourg and His Girls is premiering in Australia as part of ACMI's Gainsbourg restrospective program, Je t’aime: the film lives of Gainsbourg and Birkin. The film season runs October 7-19.

We have five doubles passes to give away to Gainsbourg and His Girls next Saturday, 16th October. To win, email your name to win@broadsheet.com.au with 'Gainsbourg' as the subject.

www.acmi.net.au