One of two biopics to hit our screens this year, sanctioned by long-time lover Pierre Bergé
Six years after his death, the life of colossally influential French fashion god Yves Saint Laurent is memorialised in two biopics this year. The first to hit our screens, Yves Saint Laurent (the second will differentiate itself by dropping ‘Yves’ from its title), comes offcially sanctioned by Pierre Bergé, the Algerian-born designer’s lover and business partner. As such, director Jalil Lespert’s film, which stars Pierre Niney as Saint Laurent and Guillaume Gallienne as Bergé, has been granted full access to the YSL archives and seizes this sartorial advantage to recreate some of Saint Laurent’s career-defining shows, including his first collection as head designer at Dior and the iconic 1976 Ballet Russes collection. Watching the latter vividly brought to life, with authentic couture and ballistic classical score, is this biopic’s triumphant highlight.
Besides being visually sumptuous, other bonuses include Niney’s performance, which captures Saint Laurent’s wan, almost childlike diffidence, and an unflinching portrayal of some less savoury moments in the designer’s life, like his wintry dismissal of original muse Victoire (Charlotte Le Bon) when she defies him and his damaging drug addiction. But while titillating, the drug hazes and an S&M sex-club sequence don’t, in the end, especially illuminate the genius of the man, the first French couturier to bring out a full pret-a-porter line. Laspert also misses a trick in not exploring YSL’s isolation from his family, seemingly orchestrated by Bergé, or his frenemy-style rivalry with Karl Lagerfeld (Nikolai Kinski), whose lover Jacques de Bascher the bespectacled designer steals.
This soft-soap sketchiness becomes a tad irksome. You’d expect Bergé to get off lightly. Yes, he’s shown warning de Bascher off but it isn’t revealed what he says to get de Bascher to cut YSL off stone dead. Equally, while Saint Laurent is shown in hospital after his conscription into the French army, the electroshock therapy he received there is overlooked; there’s passing mention of a late-in- life illness but we never find out he died of brain cancer. It’s a gauzy retelling that can’t help ramp up expectations for a hopefully more in-depth account later this year.
Saint Laurent will arrive with a starrier cast: Lea Seydoux (Blue Is The Warmest Colour), the dreamy Louis Garrel and Gaspard Ulliel (Hannibal Rising) as YSL. It also has bad-boy filmmaker Bertrand Bonello at the helm, who won’t be afraid to dish dirt, which undoubtedly is the reason that Bergé has threatened their film with legal action if it uses “unauthorised reproductions” of his late lover’s clothes. Our conclusion is that the two films watched together will offer a far fuller portrait of the late, great Yves Saint Laurent than either can achieve on its own.