SAINT LAURENT Movie Review

saint_laurent_ver4By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic

Las Vegas Informer

This is the way you should want your life presented on film – and no matter who you are – it would star the gorgeous, expressive Gaspard Ulliel.

There are currently two Yves Saint Laurent films: Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (2014) and Bertrand Bonello’s SAINT LAURENT (2015). The difference? Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s partner and overseer, granted Lespert access to his extensive archives and tweeted his outrage at the rival project: “I hold the moral rights over YSL’s work… A trial on the cards?” Bonello had the backing of Kering, the luxury conglomerate which now owns the Yves Saint Laurent label.

Clearly Bonello’s is the “unauthorized” and “unsanctioned” version and is not a deification of Saint Laurent. Of course, Bergé is around, but he is clearly not the love of Yves life and just keeps passing through to make business deals.

Who holds the moral rights over your life?

Yves Saint Laurent was born Oran, Algeria and he grew up in a villa by the Mediterranean.* Did the fact that the French were and still are notorious for their racist attitudes towards French-Algerians have anything to do with Yves? It clearly had no effect on his career, but what about the emotional toll?

After his early success as a designer, YSL was conscripted to serve in the French army during the Algerian war of independence.

There was speculation at the time – not addressed in the film – that Marcel Boussac, the owner of the House of Dior and a powerful press baron, had put pressure on the government not to conscript Saint Laurent in 1958 and 1959 but reversed course and asked that the designer be conscripted after the disastrous 1960 season so that he could be replaced.

In voice-over, YSL (Gaspard Ulliel) tells us that after 20 days in the military he was hospitalized in a French mental hospital, where he underwent psychiatric treatment, including electroshock therapy, for a nervous breakdown. YSL blamed the hospital for his later mental state and addictions.

As narrator, YSL does not mention that it was due to the stress of being hazed by fellow soldiers.

imagesJPDEXZX7This is what is required to be infantilized by everyone: You must be famous, rich and have a good excuse that covers all bad behavior.

Yves Saint Laurent was the darling of French couture in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Yves represented the Bianca Jagger-Andy Warhol-Studio 54 decadent extravagance of the era. No matter how famous and photographed Yves was, he was a tormented – and pampered – artist fed on pills, cocaine, alcohol, LSD  and the prevailing sexual atmosphere of entitled rich people – not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

As YSL becomes famous and hailed as a genius, his inner-circle becomes more defined and exclusive. His business partner and an early lover, Pierre Bergé (Jérémie Renier), is the man who created the environment for YSL to flourish. And there is power in that position. YSL’s social life is filled with nightclubs and promiscuous sex. Fidelity was not important to YSL, but it was to Bergé. There were too many beautiful people in YSL’s orbit.

Beautiful people were – and still are – the coin of the realm and Lou Lou de la Falaise (Léa Seydoux) was his creative partner and the strikingly beautiful model Betty Catroux** (Aymeline Valade) was his muse.

YSL begins an affair with professional hedonist/protégé, Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel), the boyfriend of another famous designer, Karl Lagerfeld. Jacques indulges YSL in pills, hard drugs and kinky orgies. As portrayed by Garrel, he’s the French Lord Bryon – the poet who flaunted a scandalous private life and was described by one contemporary as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’.

Why do so many famous (and non-famous) people die of drug overdoses? William S. Burroughs said it best: “If God made anything better, He kept it for Himself,”

It is here that Bonello envelops us in the world of seductive pleasures. There is little need for exploratory dialogue. We see the lure of opium-filled evenings lounging on velvet sofas watching beautiful naked bodies float by.

Bergé ends their intense love affair and YSL starts a downward spiral. To spite Bergé?

images7As YSL sinks deeper into pills and depression, his couture house suffers. He does not have a creative designing team – it’s all done by him. He creates every piece in the collection.

What house of couture would allow one designer complete control over designing every garment?

Before YSL became a very rich man with lots of trinkets, Bonello plunges us into the world of loud music, the ecstasy of drugs, and lots of sex. The atmosphere is rich with beauty as the film is more about the emotional life of YSL than a typical biography. Yes, we see the clothes and marvel over the way a couture house goes about creating wearable masterpieces. It is like a private immaculate clinic – everyone is wearing white smocks, quiet, respectful, and very serious. This is not sewing – this is art.

Not only was YSL’s couture exclusive, the designer was as well. His shyness and reclusive lifestyle became legendary. He suffered for his art.

YSL is only interested in beautiful things and even though he has an indulgent drug addiction, he has a devastating charisma. He doesn’t need to be angry or short-tempered with anyone – there is only one brief glimpse of a cruel nature. For Bonello, Bergé is the villain. As is often the case with the long-term partner of a famous person, Bergé sees YSL as being him and Yves. Yes, Jacques is a very bad influence of Yves and must be removed to secure Bergé’s control over Yves and the House of Saint Laurent.

In a 2009 interview with The Advocate, designer Tom Ford revealed that his time as the creative director of the YSL brand was fraught with conflict as he frequently was at odds with brand’s founder. He said: “But being at Yves Saint Laurent was such a negative experience for me even though the business boomed while I was there. Yves and his partner, Pierre Bergé, were so difficult and so evil and made my life such misery.”

Not only was YSL’s couture exclusive, the designer was as well. His shyness and reclusive lifestyle became legendary. He suffered for his art. YSL is only interested in beautiful things and even though he has an indulgent drug addiction, he has a devastating charisma. He doesn’t need to be angry or short-tempered with anyone – there is only one brief glimpse of a cruel nature. For Bonello, Bergé is the villain. As is often the case with the long-term partner of a famous person, Bergé sees YSL as being him and Yves. Yes, Jacques is a very bad influence of Yves and must be removed to secure Bergé’s control over Yves and the House of Saint Laurent.

In a 2009 interview with The Advocate, designer Tom Ford revealed that his time as the creative director of the YSL brand was fraught with conflict as he frequently was at odds with brand’s founder. He said: “But being at Yves Saint Laurent was such a negative experience for me even though the business boomed while I was there. Yves and his partner, Pierre Bergé, were so difficult and so evil and made my life such misery.”

YSL’s world is dark, moody and sexy. Gaspard Ulliel is so beautiful and expressive that the inner life of the man is evident. Bonello and cinematographer Josee Deshaies adore Ulliel. He is lavished in beautiful close-ups. Ulliel is never given one moment that does not deliver a shy, easy seductive quality.

American actors take note: This is the way you want to be directed and photographed.

*The French used overwhelming force to maintain its Algerian colony, created a two-tier system which, in simple terms, involved a ruling French class and a servile Algerian one. This led to the Algerian War, a war between France and the Algerian independence movements from 1954 to 1962, which led to Algeria gaining its independence from France. Even today, France – while officially color-blind – still shows scandalous discrimination against up to 4 million French-Algerians in everything from jobs to housing. French-Algerian communities still live on impoverished housing estates, go to bad schools, and have few opportunities for social advancement. At best they get menial jobs, at worst they end up unemployed or in prison.

At the Las Vegas Informer, we value constructive comments and criticisms from our readers. All comments are moderated.  We do not allow comments containing offensive, obscene or sexual language. Also prohibited are insulting, threatening or vicious comments. Anyone failing to follow this policy will have their comments removed and will face a ban from making future comments on articles. 

Member of Broadcast Film Critics Association: www.bfca.org/
Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

5.00 avg. rating (94% score) - 1 vote

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the Informer mailing list

Check your email and confirm the subscription