Arts Review, Movies
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel (Yves Saint Laurent), Jeremie Renier (Pierre Bergé), Louis Garrel (Jacques de Bascher), Lea Seydoux (Loulou de la Falaise), Aymeline Valade (Betty Catroux), Helmut Berger (the aging Saint Laurent)
Was anyone more chic than Yves Saint Laurent in the late Sixties and early Seventies? At one point, in Bertrand Bonello’s stylish and empty new bio-pic on the great clothing designer, Saint Laurent seems pleased to receive a friendly letter from Andy Warhol. It’s a rare sign of emotion from the designer, who, like Warhol, epitomized the chilly coolness of that period in Paris and Manhattan. Each made a fetish out of collecting odd characters to spend time with in discotheques and at long, aimless parties. Both were talented but what lay behind their splendid surfaces?
Saint Laurent doesn’t offer us much in the way of answers about this often self-destructive genius. Instead, in the fashionable French manner, we are shown events without explanation. We see Saint Laurent having sex with a number of men and going to parties with oddly distinctive women. Some seem to matter more than others: Jacques de Bacher, Loulou de la Falaise, Betty Catroux. Most of all, there’s Pierre Bergé, who was Saint Laurent’s business partner for decades and his lover for a decade and a half. But we never really know what Saint Laurent makes of his companions. Perhaps they’re just an elegant (and occasionally trashy) way of spending time when work isn’t being done.
One thing Bonello’s film does emphasize is the plain hard work it takes to create fashionable clothing. An opening sequence where one sees the painstaking perfectionism of the seamstresses and models working for Saint Laurent is absolutely brilliant in depicting the attention to craft paid by those women. As for Saint Laurent, we see him as a genius attempting to harness his creativity much of the time. It must be a strain, one assumes, and perhaps that explains the debauchery that ensues when work isn’t being done.
As Saint Laurent in his prime, Gaspard Ulliel is arresting. You see the elegance of the man and get glimpses of the demons that slowly broke him apart. As the elderly Saint Laurent, Helmut Berger—once young and handsome—offers a cautionary look at what happens at the end of an excessive life.
People fascinated by Saint Laurent and fashion will adore this film. Lovers of what was once called “Euro-trash” will applaud its over-the-top party scenes, replete with sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. For the rest of us, this may be one trip to Paris that isn’t worth taking.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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