French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent is one of the biggest names to ever work in the industry. From the 60s until the time of his death in 2008 at age of 71, he was one of the most influential designers of his era. French director and co-screenwriter Bertrand Bonello (House of Tolerance) has decided to focus on the years from 1967 to 1976. This is an interesting time because Saint Laurent was at the apex of his creativity despite the fact that behind the scenes he was falling apart.
While Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel – Hannibal Rising, A Very Long Engagement) was the man with the golden touch when it came to fashion designing there was a man behind him prodding him on. Pierre Bergé (Jérémie Renier – In Bruges) was the business sense behind the YSL label. He was Saint Laurent’s partner in life and in business making all the decisions. The two live together and are lovers with Bergé being tolerant of Yves taking on other lovers. One such lover is Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel – The Dreamers). Yves becomes obsessed with this rich layabout. Pierre only steps in when the increased drug use the two engage in puts YSL at risk.
There is no mistaking that this is a French film and not a product of Hollywood. Besides the male nudity the entire way the story is told has that French sense about it in that it is artistic, great to look at and does not really follow a direct storyline. It is an impressionist style biopic. That being said it will not be to the majority of film watchers’ taste in that it is artsy, light on dialogue, filled with long silent shots and long at 2 ½ hours. Most will not be able to dedicate the patience required by the snail’s pace of the film. That plus the disjointed and dreamlike nature of the film make it at times a struggle to stay focused.
Despite the slow pace there is no mistaking that the man led a very involved and interesting life. The Saint Laurent in this picture is a designing genius though a rather sensitive and unbalanced creature. The constant drinking and drug use of this era do not help things. At times the film creeps towards voyeurism with the watcher feeling like they have been presented snippets of the man’s life whose sole purpose is to titillate rather than allow you to understand more about him. It does have a large hedonistic side to it.
It helps if you know something about the French fashion designer’s life. Also beneficiary if you are a fan of haute couture. The fashion is wonderful and the way it is shot really shows it off.
Much is demanded of the actors involved in this film and they come through with flying colours. The revelation for me was the lead, Ulliel. I had never seen him before and was really surprised at how well he could command the camera. The two-pronged attack of Helmut Berger (The Godfather: Part III, The Damned) as an elderly and frail Saint Laurent in 1989 and Ulliel is really the backbone of the film.
-Previews of Wild Things, Irrational Man, The Diary of a Teenager Girl, Grandma, Infinitely Polar Bear, Jimmy’s Hall