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Naked Biopic truth of Yves St. Laurent Hedonistic Life featured at Cannes Film Festival.

©ourtesy of  theGuardian & thedailybeast

yves st. laurent french fashion designerIt might come as a surprise in a film about a deceased fashion designer who spent vast amounts of his life thinking about couture, but one of the most, if not the most, memorable scenes in the new biopic, Saint Laurent, shows a young Yves Saint Laurent completely naked as he walks towards his partner, Pierre Bergé (clad in a black satin dressing gown that reveals his tanned behind), before the young lovers jump on the bed for a romp. Despite the provocative nature of this and other racy sex scenes in the film, which was directed by Bertrand Bonello (of Le Pornographe fame) and premiered at the Festival de Cannes on Saturday, the real controversy surrounding the production has to do with the clothing. What else!

Early on, the Bonello production incurred the wrath of Saint Laurent’s long-term partner Pierre Bergé, who threatened in WWD to sue the film if it copied any of the designer’s outfits—a bit hard to avoid when making a coming-of-age movie about YSL’s life and work.  The filmmakers, on their part, have accused Bergé of distributing letters to parties associated with the film to try to stop it. To this end, Bergé has refused to allow Bonello’s team to consult the brand’s archives. He also publically endorsed another biopic, Yves Saint Laurent, which debuted in January and was directed by Jalil Lespert. The Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent lent the rival film a reported 77 vintage outfits and Bergé helped conduct a scene depicting the legendary 1976 Ballet Russes fashion show. The resulting headlines in the French press declared war between the two films.

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Haute couture … Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Laurent and Charlotte Le Bon as model Victoire Doutreleau. Photograph: Thibault Grabherr

27 Mar 2014: The French fashion designer’s biopic boasts talented actors and immaculate costume recreations, but it also features boring fashionistas doing boring things, which kills the story’s tension, writes ©ourtesy of Alex von Tunzelmann. 

Guillaume Gallienne, left, as Pierre Bergé and Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Laurent
The film begins in Oran, French Algeria, in 1957. Young pied-noir Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney) moves to Paris to work for couturier Christian Dior. He hangs out with model Victoire Doutreleau (Charlotte le Bon) and designer Karl Lagerfeld (Nikolai Kinski). Victoire tries it on with Yves, clambering on top of him at a table in a nightclub. “How juvenile,” says Karl. All three of them end up platonically in bed together, though it’s clear Yves prefers chaps. Enter Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), who will become both his business partner and his life partner.
The film’s scenes of the two men’s courtship are sweet, understated and touching, as the painfully shy Yves is coaxed out of his shell by the quietly forceful Pierre. The relationship’s complexities are performed beautifully and subtly by Niney and Gallienne. But their honeymoon ends abruptly when Yves is conscripted to serve in the Algerian war.
Saint Laurent lasted only 20 days in the army before suffering a collapse during his induction. He was, as the film shows, moved to a military psychiatric hospital. The film hints at his treatment being counterproductive: it consisted of drug and electroshock therapy. There is no doubt Saint Laurent’s experience was awful for him personally, but it’s striking that the film avoids any wider engagement with the situation in Algeria – aside from showing the famille Saint Laurent’s great sadness at having to leave when the rebels win. It is taken as read here that the real tragedy of French colonialism in Africa was that it ended. If you want to know more about the Algerian war, turn this fluff off and watch The Battle of Algiers – truly a classic of historical film-making.
In 1965, Yves comes up with his Mondrian collection – cocktail dresses inspired by the lines and colours of Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian – and hits the big time. This is great news for Yves, who is suddenly surrounded by all the wealth, beauty and glamour he could want – a glittering world immaculately recreated by an exceptional team of production and costume designers. Unfortunately, it is disastrous for the film. The characters you may have given a damn about – Pierre and Yves – are submerged by a tide of pointless, flimsy hangers-on, who can only be of interest to the nerdiest of fashion nerds. Their conversation is desperately dull and self-regarding. To relieve the boredom, everybody does drugs and has sex with each other. It doesn’t help, because they have boring drugs and boring sex, and anyway there is simply no tension left in the story.


Yves falls ill, and squabbles with Pierre. The film attempts to dredge up what it can of a narrative drive from the Slough of Despond in which it has mired itself, but all it can find is Saint Laurent’s 1976 Russian ballet and opera collection. In whatis supposedto be a triumphal moment, he sends models down a catwalk in jewelled bolero waistcoats, bell-sleeved shirts, enormous puffy trousers and big furry hats. Frankly this looks to an untrained eye like a load of grown women dressed up as organ-grinders’ monkeys. Admittedly, historians are not generally noted for their fashion leadership; indeed, should they linger too long on park benches, some distinguished professors at our great universities could be mistaken for tramps. In academia, this is a source of much pride.


The film implies that Saint Laurent died pretty much straight after the 1976 show, though actually he lived for another 32 years. Still, it has outstayed its welcome by this point, and the swift end is appreciated. In an apparent attempt to retrofit itself with wider relevance, it bangs some title cards on the end making a few lofty claims about how Yves Saint Laurent single-handedly invented feminism, ended the cold war and freed Nelson Mandela, or something. A bit de trop.

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