Aug 6, 2014

Yves Saint Laurent

A surprisingly good biopic: edgy, sexy, gossipy and with two enormous actors from the Comedie Française in the main roles. I did not expect much (as a rule, never expect much from biopics) and I was very entertained and moved by this look at the rise and fall of Yves Saint Laurent, directed with panache by Jalil Lespert. I suspect that if it weren't for the contributions of Pierre Niney as YSL and Guillaume Gallienne as his partner, Pierre Bergé, the movie would be a notch below. But these two actors inhabit their roles and their relationship with total commitment and extraordinary acting. Lespert is also an actor, which may account for his sensitive direction.
As Saint Laurent, Niney gets the look, the walk, the designer moves, the petulance just right. He is a sensitive young man in Algeria, and then working in Paris as Christian Dior's assistant. He becomes head of the house of Dior at the tender age of 23, after the master dies. He is an obsessive worker, and an inspired artist. He is also emotionally volatile.
The movie does great justice to his designs. It's delectable fashion porn. Drool as you watch the period authentic, not anorexic models parade the lovely clothes he did at Dior, to which he added his own whimsical touch, and marvel at the stuff he did to influence fashion forever, when with the help of Bergé, he founded his own couture house.
There was a family (I suspect Mexicans) sitting in front of me, dad, young son and daughter) who squirmed in their seats like live clams at all the scenes of love and longing between Yves and Pierre, and Yves and other men. They were not happy campers, these viewers, but I was, because I did not expect this film to dedicate time to YSL's sexy (and compulsive) gay life. This part of his identity is treated both with verve and as a matter of fact, as should be.
The story is told in retrospect by an aging Bergé, who was the business genius behind the scenes, the man who understood YSL's talent and championed him through thick and thin. The classic dichotomy between the tortured genius and the shrewd businessman gets a more intimate, personal treatment. Theirs is a complicated love story, which may be the reason the movie works. It goes deep into the relationship, as opposed to just being a series of milestones in the life of a famous man. Yves and Pierre had spats and jealousies and Yves could behave like an ungrateful brat, but they were together until the end.
Gallienne gives one of the finest performances I have seen on screen recently. He does not have to affect the real Berge's mannerisms, as Niney does with YSL, but he creates a solid character, a creative, exuberant businessman and ruthless protector of the love of his life.
Without expensive period soundtrack, the lovely music by Ibrahim Maalouf enhances the decades really well, going from 1950's cool jazz to disco, to opera, as YSL's life becomes more and more fabulous and spins out of control. The fashion is presented with great authenticity and it shows the enormous influence of YSL on the way we dress today.

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