“Stopping me will kill me. I will die of boredom.”
So utters Pierre Niney, starring as Yves Saint Laurent in the eponymous biopic, opening today, June 25 at the Film Forum in New York (wider release to follow).
What he really meant, of course, was that to not make fashion would be to not exist for him. And this Jalil Lespert directed film, much like Milos Forman’s Amadeus, is a riveting dramatization of the timeless tale of the monumental genius as inescapable slave to his muse.
That particular scene shows the boy wonder despairing after his firing from the house of Dior–a public relations move meant to save face when Yves begs out of military service. The conflict was the Algerian War, which would have taken him back to his place of birth–and might have extinguished his career when it had hardly begun. He and partner-lover Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne) are subsequently seen scrambling for investors to launch the YSL label. It hardly needs to be said that they succeeded.
Yves Saint Laurent is a very French document of the perils of fame and fortune and the dangerously irresistible allure of la vie glamour. The younger Saint Laurent is depicted as fastidious, industrious, and a teetotaler. His first solo show is a genuine success; but one reviewer describes his clothes as “meticulously boring.” As the ’60s then ’70s counterculture swirls up around him, he becomes the Yves of self-destruction, drawn into a web of drug-and-booze-fueled decadence and meaningless sex, often with Marrakech as a seductively louche backdrop.
The stunning cinematography and authentic period costumes vividly transport the viewer from Moroccan pool parties to the sybaritic nightclubs and rarefied drawing rooms of Paris.
Notably, rather than making maudlin of the pitfalls of homosexuality in the ’50s an ’60s, the film shows Saint Laurent and Berge exuberantly christening their passion along a quiet stretch of the Seine. It’s one of the truly exhilarating love scenes. But as his lover and business manager, Berge is later depicted as long suffering, though hardly a saint himself. In one instance, while Yves is awkwardly courting the press, he yanks him aside and condescendingly snarls, “It’s better to shut up than talk crap.”
Berge’s capacity for cruelty peaks as he coldly seduces model Victoire Doutreleau (played with an insouciant and tragic sexuality by Charlotte Le Bon), then tosses her aside, sneering to Yves that, “her style is yesterday’s news.”
But, oh, the clothes! The most unfeeling aesthete can utterly revel in the spectacle of the fashions on display (taken from the designer’s own archive). The muses and inspirations come and go, most notably Loulou de la Falaise and the paintings of Piet Mondrian. But Yves Saint Laurent’s ability to conjure ethereal, and zeitgeist-altering beauty from a piece of fabric never wavers.
The film, wisely, doesn’t follow him as he ages. No need, as the real story was told by the time Yves was in his 40s. Why bore us with details of fragrance licenses and bourgeois contentment? Rather, we are left with a powerful sense of how such artistic magnificence is quite often the product of a harrowing, blinkered monomania.
Indeed, asked what he will do if Communism prevails, Yves replies without the faintest hint of self-consciousness, “I’ll make dresses.”
Director: Jalil Lespert
Screenplay: Jalil Lespert, Marie-Pierre Huster and Jacques Fieschi, from the Laurence Benaim book Yves Saint Laurent
Director of photography: Thomas Hardmeier
Costume designer: Madeline Fontaine
Production designer: Aline Bonetto
In French With English Subtitles
A Weinstein Co. Release