Oct 1, 2014

Saint Laurent: NYFF 14

The French filmic powers that be are perverse if they think this movie by Bertrand Bonello, their entry to the upcoming Academy Awards, is going to win an Oscar. I know what they're thinking: "Les Americains, they love les biopics! Le Oscar is ours!"
Except that movie is called Yves Saint Laurent, by Jalil Lespert, and would have had a decent chance at the bald guy, had they sent that one instead. But they chose Saint Laurent, a three-hour long, shapeless, ridiculous mess that is far more about its self-indulgent director than it is about its fascinating subject.
Poor Yves (Gaspard Ulliel) and his partner, Pierre Bergé (the great Jeremie Renier, wasted and miscast), are ciphers in this sordid vision of 1970's depravity. Bonello is more interested in his own spin on the tortured artist than in YSL himself. He devotes endless minutes and resources to YSL's world: Regine's, the drugs, the sex, the muses and hangers on. He does not bother creating dimensional characters or a compelling story. The movie is an endless collection of untethered moments in YSL's life in the Seventies. Each year, announced with a huge title, seems to last forever. There is no forward momentum. There is no dramatic action. Organizing a movie by years is not the most exciting way to develop a plot; hence, there is none, and the movie drags on and on.
One never understands what made this universally admired, successful designer so unhappy, or what the relationship was like between him and Bergé. They ignore each other for most of the movie. Bonello has no sense of timing or staging. He spends an eternity on a meeting between Bergé and Saint Laurent's American investors, covering the minutiae of their licensing deals, but not one minute is spent in giving Saint Laurent a say in his own destiny. According to Bonello, YSL is some sort of martyr to creative genius. An icon (and a pouting, annoying one at that), more than a man of flesh and blood.
The actors are helpless, as they have nothing to do. Ulliel gets YSL's mannered whispering and gait right, but apparently so can anyone else. He tries to be as enigmatic as possible, but we have no idea of what can possibly be going on in his mind. Renier fares even worse, with an unforgivable dark wig and glued on facial hair.  For a movie about a man who only cared about beauty and elegance, very short shrift is actually given to his enormous talent. There is no interest in what he achieved, no sense of elegance or beauty. Bonello is only interested in his own thesis about artistic self-destruction and bourgeois depravity. This is not only boring, but a disservice to a true creative genius.
Who cares if a cast of thousands is summoned: Lea Seydoux (wasted as Loulou de la Falaise), Dominique Sanda (wasted as Saint Laurent's mére) and Helmut Berger, the movie's only coup de theatre, tragically unrecognizable as YSL at the end of his life. They are like lifeless mannequins peppering a feverish, clumsy tableau vivant. The movie comes alive only twice. When Berger appears and steals the show, and when Louis Garrel shows up as the depraved lover who drove YSL to despair. He seems to be the only one having any fun.
This movie has no business being in the New York Film Festival (let alone the Oscars), but every year one can count on a handful of insufferably pretentious (mostly French) movies that the selection committee swoons over because they are messy and smelly, and somehow they confuse that with art.
It is tragic that a movie like Yves Saint Laurent, which is made with enormous craft and has two of the most magnificent performances of the year, is dismissed because it is more conventional. It's only sin is that it aims to tell YSL's story well, whereas Bonello's movie is as vapid and pretentious as your worst nightmares about the world of fashion.

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