Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jalil Lespert
Stars: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet, Nikolai Kinski, Marie deVillepin, Ruben Alves, Alexandre Steiger.
Yves Saint Laurent is one of the iconic fashion designers of the 20th century, who had a colourful and turbulent life behind the scenes of the fashion world. There have been a couple of documentaries exploring his life and influence, including 2002’s Yves Saint Laurent: His Life And Times from director David Teboul, which have offered more insight into the designer’s complex personality that this rather superficial and shallow biopic.
This is actually one of two biopics on the famed fashion designer to be made at the same time, with French director Bertrand Bonello also delivering a film about Yves Saint Laurent, imaginatively titled Saint Laurent. But this one carries the badge of having been authorised by Pierre Berge, who was Saint Laurent’s business partner and long time companion and lover.
Yves Saint Laurent is based on the biography written by Laurence Benaim, but screenwriters Marie-Pierre Huster, Jalil Lespert and Jacques Fieschi have also drawn upon numerous other sources to try and flesh out this portrait of the style maven of French haute couture, who died in 2008.
The film opens in 1958 when the 21-year-old Saint Laurent joined the famed fashion house of Christian Dior, and upon the death of his mentor he took over responsibility for designing their clothing line. But at this time France was still embroiled in its war with Algeria, and when Saint Laurent was conscripted into the army he suffered a nervous breakdown. The resulting psychological problems would manifest themselves throughout his life with fits of manic depression, paranoia and temper tantrums. Most significantly though, he was fired from Dior. He was determined to establish his own clothing house, and with the advice and help of Berge he managed to do just that. Saint Laurent led a fairly hedonistic life style, and this rather unflattering, warts and all portrait looks at his excesses, including multiple sex partners and drugs, and it spans some 20 years.
The film is told from the perspective of Berge (played here by Guillaume Gallienne), who tried to keep him focused on his work, but as well as his successful fashion shows it looks at Saint Laurent’s turbulent private life and his personal demons. However, the film never really delivers any great insights into the character and he remains a bit of an enigma. There is a lengthy sojourn in Marrakech where the couple indulge in a hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs and parties, but this portion of the film proves the least interesting.
Pierre Niney (from Romantics Anonymous, etc) plays the eponymous fashion designer here and he certainly throws himself into the role, but it is a rather mannered performance that only scratches the surface of this fragile genius and his volatile and obsessive nature.
This is undoubtedly a handsomely mounted production that benefits from having been granted access to some of Saint Laurent’s actual costumes, which lends authenticity to certain scenes. Nonetheless, there are a few scenes depicting the glamour of fashion parades, and this aspect of the film will appeal to those with an interest in fashion. Thomas Hardmeier’s cinematography gives the film a glossy surface that goes with the superficial treatment of the character.
The director is former actor turned filmmaker Lespert (Tell No One, etc), but his handling of the material is fairly conventional. It remains to be seen whether the rival biopic will probe his life in more depth and detail than this disappointing effort.