SAINT LAURENT (France 2014) ****
Directed by Bertrand Bonello

Two films on the French designer Yves Saint Laurent in the space of a year apart can be a little confusing. This later one SAINT LAURENT (the first was entitled YVES SAINT LAURENT), is the longer and better one, also chosen as France’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, though it did not get a nomination.

Bertrand Bonello’s film centres on Saint Laurent’s life from 1967 to 1976 when he was at the peak of his career. His past years in the army are mentioned, and with him aging is also displayed at the end of the film, intercut with one of his showings. The story is not told in chronological order, beginning in the 70’s going back to 1968 and then back to 1974.

The film spends quite the bit of running time celebrating life in the 70’s and late 60’s. A fair amount of time is also devoted to YSL at work with his staff, polishing the touches of his design just before a show. YSL at work and his partner Berge making business deals are the best parts of the movie. A dialogue taking place between one of his managers and himself showing not only how tight his schedule is but who he designs for (Catherine Deneuve for the Truffaut films) is particularly intriguing and insightful. Watching YSL designing, prancing around in the clubs, making love and living the decadent flamboyant lifestyle makes the film shine. It surely shows the fashion industry as a demanding one. Truly, he has fought the fight for elegance, as voiced by YSL himself.

Bonello also proves how compelling fashions is. Using split screen to tell twin events - the left of current events such as the riots in Paris and the right screen of the models and clothes on display, the audience would find the right screen more intriguing. Bonello’s film is as stylish as the subject he presents.

Bonello’s film concentrates more on the drugs and sex than the other film, in which drugs are just briefly mentioned. YSL’s hallucinations (the snakes) are vivid and there is a disturbing scene of his pet overdosing on pills left on the floor. There is full male frontal nudity displaying actor Gaspard Ulliel’s big package as well as Jeremie Renier’s. That might be worth the price of the film itself.

Ulliel who won the Cesar for Best Actor for this role is excellent and totally credible as YSL. Jeremie Renier plays his manager and lover Pierre Berge while Louis Garrel (Bertolucci’s THE DREAMERS) plays the ‘mistress’ Jacques de Bascher.

Cineastes in the know will recognize Bonello’s inside joke. There is a scene where an old YSL played by Helmut Berger watches an TV screening of the old Luchino Visconti film THE DAMNED in which Berger himself starred when young in the 70’s. YSL’s mother was just briefly mentioned and the scene in THE DAMNED depicts the Helmut Berger character about to rape his mother played by Ingrid Thulin.

But Bonella’s film runs too long as it is at 150 minutes. It could easily be cut down to 90 minutes, but it would have lost the extravagance that is typical of the subject YSL himself. SAINT LAURENT is not a masterpiece, but it attempts to be on and one cannot fault Bonello for trying so hard.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhkSXbmm-uQ

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