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dir. Jalil Lespert

Yves Saint Laurent

Words By Kate Ingram

In the first of two Yves Saint Laurent biopics to be released this year, we meet young Yves, whose extraordinary rise through the fashion ranks is as staggering as our hero is surprising. His vulnerability, awkward shyness and nervous energy belie a raw, lucid and breathtaking vision of beauty, elegance and luxury (and later, extravagance and rebellion). Yves Saint Laurent the film,

attempts to tap into both Yves the man and Yves the designer: two halves at odds with, yet galvanizing the other. However, the man who revolutionised the way women dress (and the clothes themselves) plays understudy to what director Jalil Lespert has chosen as the focal point for his biopic: Yves’ enduring love story with Pierre Bergé. It is through their relationship, and Bergé’s narration, that we learn about the fashion legend - and about Bergé too. A film of two surprising heroes, perhaps? A stylish one, without doubt. The film introduces teenage

Yves: sketching in his bedroom, smiling coyly at a gardener and cowering under his mother’s overbearing presence. This nostalgic, clichéd young gay experience isn’t highly innovative. Nonetheless, the facts start to get interesting. A ragsto-riches tale this isn’t (unlike Coco Before Chanel), yet Yves’ rise is (overwhelmingly) meteoric; he becomes Christian Dior’s assistant

at 18, his successor at 21. Fashion devotees will devour the moment when he assembles a lavish bow from nearby material, to tighten a waistline before Monsieur Dior. Already, Lespert anticipates the later, grander catwalk presentations, charged with applause and standing ovations, and Bergé’s “The way you do it, you have to be an artist.” These larger-scale exhibits of YSL-adulation

are at risk of over-sentimentalism. Likewise, snapshots of pivotal, iconic creations such as “Le Smoking”, are all-too-brief for fashion buffs. More effective are the intimate, back-stage moments between designer and his models. Here, charming, giggling Yves is at one with his creations (after Dior’s dismissal, the couple founded the Yves Saint Laurent label). Tragically, as industry pressures

mount and Yves’ depression intensifies, his talent both holds him hostage, and sets him free. Bergé laments: “You were happy only twice a year - spring and fall.” This core relationship informs, propels and frames the action, preventing - credit to the two mesmerizing leads - what could have become a style-over-substance fashion fairytale or rise and fall of

another artist in turmoil. The camera following closely; scenes between the two are some of the most tender and honest, like their endearingly boyish chase along the Seine. The dark depths of fame, depression and destructive behaviour are also most convincingly portrayed via a loaded stare, or their “separate togetherness”: collapsing on the bathroom floor, Yves tells Pierre that he

loves another man, but that he is the love of his life. Homosexuality is an integral feature of the film (and historical context), but it doesn’t seem relevant - nor should it - that this is a love story between two men. Private moments aside, the film’s depiction of time and place is intoxicating, from Thomas Hardmeier’s lush cinematography (Morocco is a highlight), to Ibrahim Maalouf’s jazzy

interludes, to the heady Parisian clubs replete with Yves’ beloved ‘mannequins’ and artists: Victoire Doutreleau, Loulou de la Falaise, Betty Catroux, Karl Lagerfeld and Andy Warhol. Pierre Bergé was reportedly moved to tears when confronted by Pierre Niney’s uncanny resemblance to his late love (significantly, Bergé ‘approved’ Lespert’s film, but refuses

to align with Bertrand Bonello’s biopic, scheduled for French release on the first day of Cannes): from the ungraceful body movements beneath his laboratory-like white coat, to his mannerisms, distinctive voice and subtle facial twitches. Guillaume Galliene delivers a brilliantly understated peformance as Bergé - as touching and nuanced as his fellow Comédie Francaise

alumni - embodying the necessary decision-maker, reign-puller and steadfast partner. Lespert has been quoted as saying that he longed to make a film about “people who fight for their dreams”. Yves Saint Laurent certainly fits this bill. Although the film (abruptly) ends with the romantic relationship in 1976, Lespert’s respect towards this almost-unbreakable union leaves a lasting impression: it’s about the strength of two men, fighting for their collective dream (the pair remained business partners and friends until Yves’ death in 2008). It isn’t surprising that Lespert centralised this relationship (after all, aren’t biopics tricky, especially fashion ones?), and overall, this is a glamorous, absorbing love story and vantage point from which to gain insight into Yves Saint Laurent as man and designer - and Pierre Bergé as man and YSL co-founder. Certainly, ardent fans may find it lacking in depth; others may be inspired to do further homework. What will Bonello have to say on the subject?

REVIEW: Yves Saint Laurent (dir. Jalil Lespert)  

SOHK.TV review of Yves Saint Laurent, starring Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Lebon, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin, Xavier Laf...

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