Despite Yves Saint Laurent’s finer moments, the film about the prodigy designer ultimately falls subject to the common biopic dilemma: impeccable costumes, accomplished cinematography, and very little life. Director Jalil Lespert begins with the start of Saint Laurent’s career at the young age of twenty-one in 1958, when he replaced Christian Dior after his death. He meets and falls in love with Pierre Bergé, and within three years, the two open Yves Saint Laurent Couture House, with Bergé acting as the CEO.
From there the film closely follows the next decade or so of Saint Laurent’s career, showing the designer’s deep fall into depression, stress, substance abuse, and the harrowing effects on his partnership with Bergé. Despite all of this, though, Bergé remains loyal and seems to stop at nothing to save and protect Saint Laurent’s vision and his life. They remain close friends and business partners throughout Saint Laurent’s entire career, up until his death in 2008, which the film touches on very briefly in its final moments.
The film is almost entirely carried by Pierre Niney’s captivating performance as Saint Laurent. His bashful, quietly brilliant nature as a young man is incredibly endearing, and it’s almost impossible not to get sucked in to his fashionably framed doe eyes and impish smile. As his career takes off and he begins embracing a more “free” lifestyle (i.e. lots of coke and casual sex) Niney is effectively convincing in finding the balance between a somewhat sheltered boy transforming into a liberated man, and the pain and sorrow that comes along with many high intensity, glamorous careers. Perhaps, though, too much time is spent on the many downfalls in his career, and these scenes seem to blur together, causing you to lose most of the pity you have for him. Partly because of this, there is a surprising lack of straightforward displays of fashion. In all fairness, a typical audience member might not care or notice, but one would think that those actually deciding to go out and see a foreign film about a specific designer would be populated by people who have more of an interest in the artistic merit of his influential designs.
Beyond that, the film occasionally rides on a gorgeous color palate, and impeccable costumes (gee, who would have thought?) but unfortunately it never makes up for the ultimate dull, formulaic nature of the film. It’s too bad, because there are a handful of scenes that break away from the typical gloss of some of its biopic counterparts, one notable scene being early on in the film when Saint Laurent is merely enjoying the sun on a diving board, and then dives into the water when Bergé comes to sit by him. There’s something about the striking pastels and replacement of dialogue with strong sounds of summer that make the tone of this moment poignant and slightly reminiscent of A Single Man (2009). Even with the various faults throughout the film, it ends up being wholly innocuous, making it the perfect movie to watch when you’re on a plane in the near future looking to be mildly entertained and distracted.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.