Late in the film, iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent is rumoured to have died. A few opportunistic journalists decide to get a headstart on the obituary. They discuss their angle: take it easy on the drugs, alcohol. They agree he was a visionary, that he transformed fashion. They say they ‘liked’ him. Maybe they mean ‘admired’, since they didn’t know him. I thought he was an asshole.
Of course it’s not that simple. From his dark hotel room, Yves tells a journalist on the phone that he was conscripted to the Algerian War of Independence. While there, his fellow soldiers persecuted him for being a homosexual and the French Army treated him as a mental patient, with heavy medication and electroshock therapy. That, he says, is why he resorted so heavily to drugs and booze. Maybe he just liked drugs. If he was a tortured soul I couldn’t tell. This film is set at least five years after all that – maybe all the feeling had faded by then. Yves is played by Gaspard Ulliel, the youngest and prettiest Hannibal Lecter. Here, he is just as cold, just as ravenous.
One particular moment has him and his lover Jacques (Louis Garrel) exchanging pills with their tongues, the leather couch groaning beneath them. Meanwhile, Yves’ French bulldog Moujik is lapping up the pills that are scattered across the floor. After Moujik dies, Yves’ assistants search high and low for an identical dog. Moujik, you see, is just an accessory. By the time Yves dies the dog is replaced three times. Equally replaceable people run around after him, making his designs, sharpening his pencils. He likes to party with the attractive ones, the rest he discards or avoids. Except for Pierre (Jérémie Renier), his manager and former lover. He is an equal in some sense - he handles the business side of things.
Pierre also notices what Jacques, apparently the love of Yves’ life, brings out in his genius designer, which threatens their business. So he pays Jacques to disappear, which he does. Though Yves seems to know all about this, he has no grudge against Pierre. He remains a prosperous friend. As for Jacques, he dies of AIDS somewhere. Who knows where? Who cares? Towards the end, Yves watches months of work stride out onto the catwalk with a look that almost resembles enthusiasm. The clothes are beautiful, the people are beautiful, the sets are beautiful.
This is a visually magnificent film, with good performances and a cool soundtrack. I just think two and a half hours is too long to spend with someone so numb. Is it possible that the real Yves Saint Laurent, a brilliant, collaborative artist, could have been so cold? If he wasn’t, the film is exploiting a man’s legacy for its cliched story about a tortured genius. If he was, that would be pretty sad. Either way, it makes for a boring movie.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Saint Laurent is screening as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. For more information or to purchase tickets please visit the Official French Film Festival website.