By Carrie White & Alec Julian
Do we really need another movie about Yves Saint Laurent?
Jalil Lespert’s biopic, YVES SAINT LAURENT, released July 2014 in the USA, linearly chronicled the life of the couturier – his childhood in Oran, Algeria, an early onset of mental illness, being thrust to the head of Dior in his twenties – from 1958 to the mid-aughts. The through-line of Lespert’s film was Laurent’s relationship with Pierre Bergé, who is portrayed as a solicitous lover and caretaker.In Bertrand Bonello’s new film, SAINT LAURENT, released in May 2015 in the USA, Bergé (Jérémie Renier) is, from the beginning, a permanent fixture in Laurent’s (Gaspard Ulliel) life, yet he largely serves in a managerial capacity; although there is a playful, amorous scene between the two lovers, their relationship is dispassionate, and they seldom appear on screen together.
Chiefly focusing on the successful years from 1967 to 1976, Bonello’s film deviates from the approach taken by Lespert , eliding the critical moments – the mental breakdown, the impact of his Mondrian dress, the excursions to Marrakesh – shown in Lespert’s film, treating those moments as exposition to be unloaded in dialogue. In fact, Bonello dispenses with the juicy emotional content of Lespert’s movie. Lespert’s film portrays Yves as mercurial and moody, while Bonello characterizes the designer as sangfroid and rather one-note. Melodramatic confrontations and familiar burnouts are eschewed by Bonello, making for an elliptical narrative.
Tonally, SAINT LAURENT makes for a cooler film than YSL. Whether it’s Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” or the electronic riffs played throughout, SAINT LAURENT leverages its soundtrack for maximum chill. The film also offers evocative nightclub scenes, set to period discothèque hits. Josée Deshaies’s roaming cinematography shows off the meretricious interiors of the spaces the characters occupy, apartments filled wall-to-wall with art.
Hedonism and disregard, rather than madness and torment, dominate this movie. With a running time almost eclipsing two-and-a-half hours, SAINT LAURENT wades through the decadence and sexuality of Yves’s life with a leering eye. Graphic nudity abounds. Louis Garrel plays Jacques de Bascher, the prurient boyfriend of Karl Lagerfeld, who steals Yves’s heart while dragging him through drug fueled, anonymizing sexual encounters.
SAINT LAURENT is decadent to a fault, however. Like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, the movie’s self-indulgence becomes the thesis, obfuscating other interesting elements, which, in this case, are fashion and feelings. Although some time is devoted to showing the processes behind the production of haute couture and, even the historical period, through a clever split-screen montage juxtaposing black-and-white newsreels with each season’s new collections, the film unfortunately does not continue in that vein.
The other glaring flaw is its impervious main character. Unlike YSL, in which Yves visibly transforms for the worse due to his crippling drug abuse, SAINT LAURENT shows Yves unmarred and unscarred, keeping his looks and physique intact, which is historically inaccurate. This flaw, however, is probably deliberate on the part of Bonello, who aims to crystallize a superficial image of Yves to mirror the superficial nature of the industry he inhabited. As one radio placed in the movie states, “If you’re beautiful, you’re happy.”
Carrie White is the best-selling author of Upper Cut: Highlights of My Hollywood Life. She tweets @carriewhitehair.
Alec Julian is a Los Angeles based writer. Follow him @PaparazziPorn.