Film Review: ‘Yves Saint Laurent’

PIERRE NINEY and CHARLOTTE LE BON star in YVES SAINT LAURENT

(L-R) PIERRE NINEY and CHARLOTTE LE BON star in YVES SAINT LAURENT  (© Tibo & Anouchka – SND)

“Meticulous and boring,” is how one reviewer described Yves Saint Laurent’s first haute-couture collection shown under his own name, which nonetheless successfully launched his fashion house to world-wide renown. The same could be said of the new biopic about his life and career, directed by Jalil Lespert, which opens in New York City and Los Angeles on June 25.  Like an impeccably constructed dress made of the most luxurious fabric that fails to flatter the figure, “Yves Saint Laurent,” is an unfortunate misuse of so much talent and material. While sumptuously shot, expertly acted, staged and costumed, the film feels tedious and unimaginative in its glossy retelling of twenty-odd years worth of the designer’s life, stuffing too many scenes into its running time that do little to bring depth to its characters.

The film borrows much from the 2010 documentary “L’amour Fou” (which translates in English to “Crazy Love”), about Saint Laurent’s lifetime relationship to partner Pierre Bergé, including its somber and elegiac tone–and frequently repeated piano passages. Released after Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, the documentary largely features interviews with Bergé discussing Saint Laurent and his life with him. “Yves Saint Laurent” similarly uses a voice-over narration by Bergé (excellently played by Guillaume Gallienne), to reflect back on their life together.

The film begins with a young Saint Laurent (played uncannily by Pierre Niney who perfectly captures the designer’s child-like shyness and soft, hesitant way of speaking), sketching in his mother’s house in French Algeria, while on holiday from his position at Christian Dior. Shortly thereafter, Dior dies, and as his assistant, Saint Laurent–at just 21, is selected to take over the famed fashion house. At a party, Saint Laurent, whose previous love interest was the Dior model Victorie (played by the stunning Charlotte Le Bon), meets Pierre Bergé, an art collector and businessman, who would become his partner in business and in life. Much like the relationship between Valentino and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti, Bergé acted as the rock to Saint Laurent’s genius, helping to launch and oversee every facet of his life and business. The film at its core is love story between these two men, with Saint Laurent’s career, and exquisite designs acting as its backdrop.

The film was made with the support of Bergé, (a second biopic on Saint Laurent made without Mr. Bergé’s approval is slated for release later this year), who agreed to lend vintage Yves Saint Laurent couture pieces and sketches for use in the film from the Fondation Pierre Bergé — Yves Saint Laurent, which gives the film a remarkable authenticity. To Mr. Bergé’s credit, the film does not sugarcoat its characters’ flaws and instead fully integrates them into the storyline: Saint Laurent’s manic-depressive breakdown following his conscription into the army; his later indulgences in drugs and alcohol; both of their infidelities. Even so, the film comes off as a carefully contrived piece of corporate PR, rather than a film anywhere close to approaching the artistry and ingenuity of Saint Laurent himself.

106 minutes, rated R, (In French)