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Saint Laurent - Alliance Francaise French Film Festival Review

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The life, death, myths and legends of influential French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent inspired two major biopics in 2014: Yves Saint Laurent directed by Jalil Lespert with Pierre Niney as Saint Laurent and Saint Laurent directed by Bertrand Bonello, with Gaspard Ulliel as Saint Laurent.

Both biopics were met with critical acclaim and received multiple nominations at the 40th César Awards, including a Best Actor Award nomination for Niney and Ulliel respectively.

Bonello's take on the legend of Saint Laurent is somewhat a cautionary tale of how the pursuit of success can destroy a true artist's soul.

In 1960, Saint Laurent found himself conscripted to serve in the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence. He served just 20 days in the military before the stress of hazing by fellow soldiers caused him to check into a French military hospital.

Here, a fragile Saint Laurent was given large doses of sedatives and other psychoactive drugs and was subjected to electroshock therapy. These traumatic events would lead to his drug dependency and self-destructive behaviour in his later life.

However following his release from hospital, Saint Laurent, surrounded by a loyal team of both personal and professional friends, was able to work towards his true desire - to be regarded as one of the great French artists.

Throughout his life Saint Laurent had the unwavering professional and personal support of his manager and life partner Pierre Bergé (Jérémie Renier). Together they built the internationally recognised luxury YSL brand which Saint Laurent would come to describe as a 'monster' later in his life.

Saint Laurent also had the friendship of his muses Loulou de la Falaise (Léa Seydoux) and Betty Catroux (Aymeline Valade) - who inspired many of his creations, including the Le Smoking tailored tuxedo suit.

Like a lucid dream, Bonello gleefully plays with this timeline; the years roll back and forth without warning, with the respective year signified by the soundtrack (which is highlighted with tracks by The Velvet Underground, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Metros and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons), an allusion to a political or pop cultural event or the unveiling of a Saint Laurent collection.

Throughout the high-drama, Bonello's voyeuristic camera seamlessly sweeps across scenes, tantalising the audience with an uncensored view of the excessive 1970s Parisian party scene.

At the height of Saint Laurent's success, when he was dressing the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan, he met his true love, Karl Lagerfeld's companion Jacques de Bascher de Beaumarchais (Louis Garrel). Their heady affair often descended into wild parties and copious amounts of drug taking.

But Bonello keeps the audience abreast of the 'real' world whilst simultaneously indulging them to the heyday of 1970s fashion, by implementing real footage of the 1968 Paris riots, the resignation and death of Charles de Gaulle, the arrest of Bobby Seale and the Vietnam War.

Saint Laurent is no doubt a beautiful film, with exquisite recreations of lavish apartments and studios filled with priceless fine art and a key emphasis on the dedicated and talented seamstresses who skilfully turned Saint Laurent's imagined creations into tactile garments that could be worn by the everyday woman.

There's certainly a lot to admire in Saint Laurent - the entire cast are wonderful in their respective roles with Ulliel and Garrel faultless.

And thanks to Bonello's controlled direction, Saint Laurent remains an extraordinary, carefully crafted piece of cinema, much like Saint Laurent's timeless creations.

Saint Laurent is one of the highlights of this year's Alliance Francaise French Film Festival - click here for session details.

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