Acclaimed for creating the modern woman’s wardrobe, world-renowned designer Yves Saint Laurent is, alas, merely a silhouette in a tedious biopic “Saint Laurent.”
Stylish but devoid of any heart and absent of soul, the film also lacks a cohesive structure, and its choppy chronology adds to the confusion.
We are not properly introduced to the characters, and if you don’t read French Vogue, were a jet-setter during his peak years or frequently buy haute couture, how do you know who’s who?
Director Bertrand Bonello concentrates on Saint Laurent’s rising star and decadent lifestyle from the mid-’60s through ’70s, although a snapshot of his later years is thrown in the mix.
He cut out Yves’ childhood, apprenticeship at the House of Christian Dior, mental breakdown in Algerian military service, and his early career.
The peak inside the fashion house is far more fascinating than the bored celebrity’s erratic personal life and descent into drugs and alcohol. When Bonello presents Saint Laurent’s influential collections, the film comes alive.
Showing the designer’s most significant works — a woman’s tuxedo suit, the Mondrian collection, sheer blouses and jumpsuits, along with revamping looks from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s — helps put his achievements into context.
Did you know he was the first couture designer to present a ready-to-wear line? You won’t find it out here. He was the first one to feature a pea coat on the runway, too.
But there is too little of the professional and too much of the personal to maintain interest. For all of the designer’s flair, this is a tasteless movie — explicit sexual escapades and excessive debauchery drag on, language is vulgar and nudity is graphic.
The most egregious example is showing a precious pet bulldog’s prolonged overdose after lapping up narcotics spilled on the floor. Saint Laurent’s grief over Moujik’s death results in obtaining look-alike dogs and naming them all the same.
In a shallow portrayal, Gaspard Ulliel looks like the elegant, bespectacled designer, but conveys emotion through chain-smoking countless cigarettes.
With a narrative that disintegrates quickly, the nagging question is why should we care?
Nevertheless, the film does highlight beautiful clothes, and his inspired Moroccan collection is striking in colors and lines. Yet, ultimately fails to illuminate the man behind the sketches.
1 1/2 stars
out of 4
Director: Bertrand Bonello
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Jeremie Renier, Louis Garrel, Helmut Berger, Lea Seydoux, Aymeline Valade
Rated: R for graphic nudity/strong sexual situations, substance abuse throughout, and some language.
In French, with English subtitles