- Man of fashion: Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel)
Chances are it's rainy or hot (or both), so why not loll in the cool, dark of the theater surrendering to the off-kilter charms of Saint Laurent? Bertrand Bonello's biography of iconic French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent is a loose, languid two-and-a-half-hour affair that favors the experiential over narrative.
Saint Laurent covers Saint Laurent's influential heyday, from 1967 through late 1970s. It is also — and this matters — a period of epic partying, sexual freedom, the designer as celebrity, and fashion's shift from haute couture to a slot among the conglomerates.
Saint Laurent depicts some of the highlights of YSL's career — from his influential ladies' tuxedo jackets to his controversial 1971 retro collection through the business complications of branding and founding a prêt-a-porter line — as well as his lifelong partnership with Pierre Bergé. But this material ranges from fragmented, or presented without much context, to barely alluded to. (The more you already know about YSL, the more satisfying the "bio" aspect of the film will be.)
Saint Laurent is the center of this story; the other characters orbit around him, sustaining his primacy. And fortunately, Gaspard Ulliel's portrayal of Saint Laurent is just hypnotic enough to make this dreamy hodge-podge watchable. (He also wears the hell out of some ridiculous, dandyish 1970s menswear.)
Saint Laurent doesn't probe beyond the expected: The designer is presented as a troubled, creative genius, driven and plagued by insecurities and success, self-centered and imperious. Mais oui! Workplace scenes give way to debauchery: kinky sex parties, all-night discos, drugs galore and the inevitable mental breakdowns. (Even the poor dog overdoses.)
But if you have the indulgence, Saint Laurent is a dream-like float through a life of beauty and darkness, your interest buoyed by fine camerawork, exquisite costuming and set pieces, and well-chosen music. (If you adore the furnishings shown here, you may want to track down L'amour Fou, a 2010 documentary in which Bergé recalls his life with Saint Laurent, and which depicts an auction of the couple's extensive collection of objets d'art.) In French with subtitles. Starts Fri., July 3. Harris