The late, French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent will be the subject of two different biopics this year. The first is the eponymously-titled one from actor-turned-director, Jalil Lespert and is perhaps the most authentic film, as it had the full support of Saint Laurent’s lover and business partner. Pierre Bergé lent original outfits, designs, and sketches (not to mention his mansion) to the production. But this may have been at the expense of independence as this is not the edgy or gritty film that it could have been and only time will tell if Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent will fill this void.
This biopic is rather confusingly narrated by Guillaume Gallienne who is playing Saint Laurent’s lover, Bergé who takes us back in time to before they’d even met (and when Saint Laurent was designing outfits for his mother in Algeria). From there the young Saint Laurent would go work for and become the head creative director at Dior following the founder’s sudden death in 1957. Saint Laurent was a precocious man and he takes on but losses Dior’s top job in a wave of manic depression and bad publicity following controversial comments about the Algerian War of Independence.
Bergé who has by then met Saint Laurent offers a solution and that is for the latter to open up his own fashion house so that he can design and do what he likes. From there the legend is born. In this film, Pierre Niney stars as the lead character and does an excellent job of capturing Saint Laurent’s difficult, diva-like tantrums, his uncompromising personality and self-destructive nature. Niney also shares the same angular, physical traits as the fashion icon and he has the fragile, shy and delicate mannerisms down-pat. The scriptwriters also took quotes and extracts from articles to add a sense of realism to the voice of the piece.
Somewhere along the line however, things may have been lost in translation. The film plods along during the second half amid the label’s successes (like the Mondrian dress). Saint Laurent also gets to know Andy Warhol in the swinging sixties and succumbs to alcohol and drug abuse in the seventies. The decadence of the couple’s mansion in Morocco adds to the sumptuous aesthetic of the film (along with all those designs and creations) and this beauty will appeal to fashionistas but may lack widespread appeal beyond that group and some Francophiles.
The film is gorgeous, the outfits are exquisite and the jazz score adds to the overall ambience and mood. But one can’t help but feel like this story is a little thin as some events are glossed over (like Saint Laurent and Bergé splitting up and the designers’ death in 2008). Yves Saint Laurent is a good film but it would have been better if it had been more like Coco Chanel’s story and structured on smaller segments of his life. As it is, this film exhibits the same beauty, style and elegance as its subject but audiences may be left wanting a little more substance.
Review score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Yves Saint Laurent opens in cinemas on June 26.