Director: Jalil Lespert
Starring: Pierre Ninety, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin, Nikolai Kinski
Written by: Jalil Lespert, Jacques Fieschi, Marie-Pierre Huster, Jeremie Guez and (based on the book) Laurence Be aim
Running Time: 106 mins
Release date: 21st March 2014
To get the balance right for a good biopic, you have to choose a subject with an interesting past. It’s simply not enough to go for someone mushy because they were/are famous. This is the problem with Yves Saint Laurent. While he was a fashion genius and change the way women dressed, his story isn’t strong enough or a full length feature and especially when it’s as polite as this is. It comes across as somewhat clichéd.
With France on the verge of war with Algiers, 18-year-old Yves Saint Laurent has been hired by the most famous fashion houses, that of Christian Dior. Becoming the youngest Head, after the great man died, Yves is the talk of the town after his first collection arrives. Battling with his sexuality, he meets Pierre Berge, who takes YSL under his wing and after being sacked from Dion due to a breakdown, the two men are determined to make YSL the name in fashion by opening his own house. As Yves becomes more famous and respected, the more he starts going down a rocky road of self-destruction, with sex and drugs being his Achilles Heel.
It cannot be denied that Yves Saint Laurent is an icon in the fashion world and his designs are both chic and stunning but is that enough t carry a movie. I’m sure that fashion fans would love a two-hour cat walk of his finest hours but that wouldn’t make for an interesting film for the rest of us. So we have to look into his darker part and, to be honest, it feels like we’ve been here before with other tortured souls.
What we get is a by-the-book, tick-the-boxes tale of a troubled genius whose demons lead him astray into the world of hedonism; debauched parties, bed-hopping acts of sexuality and the slow demise due to drugs. So we have this shy, retiring young man who loves nothing more to put pen to paper and come up with clothes that will stun and amaze, battling with his sexuality (trying to almost convince himself tat he’s straight by asking his favourite model, Victoire, to marry him) until he meets Berge and forms a life-long, if turbulent relationship.
So we move along the timeline, hitting all the main events in his life, interspersed with catwalk collections and it’s all polite and complimentary to the great man but that’s its downfall. This is all too safe, too respectful. It also suffers the same fate of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. It jumps from one event to another without giving the audience time to breathe. He did this, then this, then this, so any emotion goes out the window because we don’t spend long enough on each part.
Not that I’m saying I’d make a better film but it would have been more interesting if we had focused on one part of his life, that of his relationship with life partner, Berge. This is, by far, the one part of the story that works and how YSL’s behaviour affects their time together (as well as Berge’s little secret rendezvous) instead of trying to cram everything into one 106 minute film.
The film is as glossy and as smooth as the clothes he designed. Beautifully shot and the attention to detail is there, from the sense of period and the style. The performances are also very good from a strong ensemble cast. Gullaume Gallienne, as Berge, is especially good. A man having to be the rock to someone who, on occasions, is a social misfit, Gallienne brings a blend of strength and raw emotion, as he tries to protect the man he loves.
Among all of this, Pierre Ninety gives a towering performance as Yves. From shy young thing to legend, he goes on a gauntlet of a journey, never missing a beat. It’s very impressive and he works hard at creating the man in all his stages. Hopefully we will see more of him in the future.
It’s easy to admire YSL for what he did for women’s fashion but as a film, maybe we could have got a harder edged, less respectful look at a life almost less ordinary.