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Yves Saint Laurent - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published June 29th 2014
All about Yves
Director: Jalil Lespert (24 Bars, Headwinds)
Cast: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet

Yves Saint Laurent represents the first of two films about the famed French fashion designer to be released in France within months of each other. It is inevitably a beautiful looking piece of work which only fleetingly allows the audience to peep under it's impeccably tailored fabric.

yves saint laurent pierre niney
Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney) dresses his muse Victoire Doutreleau (Charlotte Le Bon)

The problem with the biopic genre is how to limn a person's entire life into a well structured dramatic narrative and not just put forward a series of episodes. Rather than drill down on a particular period in the designer's life, the filmmakers have given us pretty much the complete span of his career. Within this though, they have decided to focus on Saint Laurent's relationship with his long time partner, Pierre Berge. It's a complex romantic and business partnership full of confrontation, affection and a fair dose of co-dependency, but even narrowing the film's focus onto this aspect, the narrative fails to plumb any great depths.

Certainly the acting can't be faulted, despite the unusual choice of two comedic actors playing the central characters. Pierre Niney (recently the lead in the French Film Festival title The It Boy) easily embodies Saint Laurence's elegance and timidity, while Guillaume Gallienne (soon to be seen in Me Myself and Mum) injects a fair amount of sympathy into Berge, although he's given little to do much of the time except stifle Saint Laurent's recreational activities.

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Partners in love and business, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne)

The film starts with Saint Laurent in his early twenties suddenly thrust into fame and responsibility as the heir to Christian Dior's fashion house as a result of his mentor's untimely death. It's soon after this that he meets Berge, whose business acumen is the perfect compliment to Saint Laurent, a self proclaimed failure at everything but designing.

What follows is a cavalcade of Saint Laurent's greatest fashion shows, which is all very easy on the eye, but watching the two protagonists negotiate their relationship while the decades go by tends to become repetitive rather than build any kind of dramatic weight. If anything, the depiction of Saint Laurence's psychological frailty at the start of the couple's relationship is the most interesting section of the film.

yves saint laurent pierre niney
Pierre casts an admiring gaze over Yves

The eclectic music choices add extra colour to the various periods depicted. The same can't be said for Berge's intermittent voice over narration which is completely superfluous.

Like other biopics of fashion icons (think Coco Avant Chanel), this predictably is little more than a skim over a very beautiful surface. The script is based partly on Pierre Berge's memoirs and he assisted the production by providing some of the original clothes and venues. For that reason, this is possibly not the warts and all story it could have been. For that, we may have to wait for the slightly better reviewed and more star-studded Saint Laurent later in the year.

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Why? For lovers of French fashion
Where: At selected cinemas
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