There are two cinematic biographies about infamous French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008. Directed by Bertrand Bonello and featuring Gaspard Ulliel in the title role, this version is France’s official submission for the foreign-language Academy Award. The story opens in Paris in 1974, when depressed, melancholy YSL agreed to a disastrous phone interview in which he admits he has “disorders” before flashing back to 1967, when his fame was at its height, as he prepares an elegant haute couture collection. Lea Seydoux and Aymeline Valade play his emotionally supportive muses Loulou del la Falaise and Betty Catroux, respectively. Read on…
That’s also when YSL’s giddy, intoxicating, celebrity lifestyle disintegrated into debilitating drug abuse and dangerous debauchery, particularly his infatuation with Karl Lagerfeld model Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel), which deeply wounded YSL’s longtime business partner/lover and friend, Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier).
Wearing YSL’s signature oversized glasses, Gaspard Ulliel (“Hannibal Rising”) not only bears a strong physical resemblance but also conveys YSL’s self-destructive tendencies, along with his hedonistic sensibility and neurotic sensitivity, including insight into the clash between commerce and culture, as dresses evolve from sketches to the runway.
FYI: YSL was the first major designer to launch a pret-a-porter line, making French fashion accessible to the general public.
The biopic concludes in Saint Laurent’s later years, when he’s played by Helmut Berger, utilizing Ulliel’s ineptly synched voice.
Episodic in structure and lavish in production design, the somewhat cumbersome screenplay was written by Thomas Bidegain (“Rust and Bone,” “Our Children”) and director Bertrand Bonello (“House of Pleasures,” “The Pornographer”).
Curiously, there’s little mention of YSL’s youth in Algeria and early apprenticeship with Christian Dior. And it’s only fair to note that Pierre Berge threw his support behind Jalil Lespert’s rival bio-pic, “Yves Saint Laurent,” granting that production access to YSL’s estates in Paris and Marrakech.
In French and English, with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Saint Laurent” is a shallow, ill-fitting 5. Running 2 ½ hours, it gets truly tedious – unless you’re a fashion junkie.