FILM REVIEW: Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent (Jalil Lespert, 2014)

Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Laurent
Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Laurent

Most people will be familiar with the YSL logo, but only the true fashionistas among us will probably have much knowledge of the great fashion designer himself. Yves Saint Laurent allows us to peek behind the curtain and gain further insight into this recognisable name. Saint Laurent is portrayed here as a timid, troubled soul, almost out of place in an industry where he is surrounded by arrogance and excess. Though he does join in with the coke, obviously.

Pierre Niney & Charlotte Le Bon
Pierre Niney & Charlotte Le Bon

This biopic of Yves Saint Laurent (played by Pierre Niney) focuses predominantly on the golden years of his career – we begin with his promotion to head designer of Dior, and end shortly after the onset of his illness which eventually led to his death. This arguably meant there was not quite enough backstory, with little depth given to the supporting characters, besides Yves’ partner, Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne). I found myself wondering who some of them even were on many occasions. Anyone who has followed his career may have recognised some of them straight away, however.

"The beautiful people"
“The beautiful people”

I found it refreshing (and unexpected) that Saint Laurent’s sexuality was a non-issue. I had anticipated drama about his coming out and the consequential homophobia that he no doubt faced, but this was not covered at all. Is this because he was lucky enough to be surrounded by mostly accepting people, or because they just didn’t have the time to go over this? Or better yet, to make a point that this shouldn’t even be an issue? I was somewhat confused, not knowing any backstory before seeing the film, about a scene near the beginning where he appears to ask his muse, Victoire (Charlotte Le Bon), to marry him. In hindsight I realise he probably specifically asked her to be his “bride”, meaning his primary/featured/I-don’t-know-the-correct-term model who finishes the fashion show in a wedding dress. Not knowing that each fashion show involved this “bride” I misinterpreted this as a proposal and this threw me a bit. I assumed it was the start of a confused sexuality/coming out arc but then his sexuality was never questioned again.

Pierre Niney & Guillaume Gallienne as Yves & Pierre
Pierre Niney & Guillaume Gallienne as Yves & Pierre

It will be interesting to compare the current film with the upcoming Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello, 2014). Yves Saint Laurent was made with the full co-operation of the YSL Foundation and Pierre Bergé and is thus arguably the more accurate portrayal. However, there is also a risk of bias – Saint Laurent may have more freedom to depict the flaws of Saint Laurent and Bergé. Having said that, Yves Saint Laurent doesn’t always paint them in a good light.

Pierre Niney
Pierre Niney

The resemblance between Pierre Niney and the real Yves Saint Laurent is striking, though maybe the glasses exaggerate this. Having briefly watched a few clips of the real man, Pierre Niney’s absolute mastery of the role is apparent. I have seen (and fallen in love with) him once before in the French comedy It Boy (David Moreau, 2013), and it did not prepare me for his performance here. He is exquisite. The voice, the mannerisms, the way he manages to not even be hot anymore! Though that may just be the glasses again. Guillaume Gallienne as Bergé was also very good. I liked Bergé until his one dick move – he definitely didn’t force the filmmakers to hide all of his flaws, that’s for sure.

Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Niney
Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Niney

Yves Saint Laurent shows off the beauty of Paris, as well as the vibrancy of Marrakech. The score by Ibrahim Maalouf is grand, and changes with the different time periods and settings. I don’t really ‘get’ haute couture fashion and to be honest, I didn’t find any of the costumes overly exciting, but I’m sure fashion lovers will be salivating over what’s on offer here.

One of YSL's famous creations
One of YSL’s famous creations

While Yves Saint Laurent provides us with some insight into the man himself, it appears to be aimed more at those with pre-existing knowledge of his career. Those who have this background knowledge are more likely to enjoy this film, assuming it meets their expectations. For those of us ignorant on haute couture fashion, it is just another biopic, albeit a somewhat more glamourous one than usual.

3 stars

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