Biopics on eminent fashion figures usually fail on representing both the public image and private life of their main character. Films turn out as simple romantic portrayals of the brand whilst depicting the designer within the scandals everyone already know about. Yves Saint Laurent is no real difference to these previous films, but it manages a few surprises.
Promoted at the head of Dior’s artistic department in 1958, 22-year-old Yves (Pierre Niney) has the huge and stressful responsibility to create the next collections of the prestigious company. The film relates his slow emancipation from the Dior supremacy to the business establishment of YSL in the world of the haute couture. The story is narrated from Pierre Bergé’s point of view (Guillaume Gallienne), Yves’ life-time lover who supported him through creation crisis, unemployment and depression.
The choice of an internal point of view sometimes provides overly romantic dialogues and fakes a personal vision on the designer. The film barely mentions Yves’ depression, although clearly at the core of his abusive behaviour, his constant use of drugs and alcohol, but also the real motor to his creation. It stays on the glamorous surfaces of the catwalks and depicts a designer who, because of his profession, is allowed excesses – and these excesses are getting out of control the more Yves’ work frees itself from Dior’s rules.
This evolution in the film sometimes manages to create an interesting rhythm and links the artistic choices of its mise-en-scène to the different decades the story illustrates. As the seasons go by and fashion changes its standards, the music of the film evolves. The fifties are cadenced with jazz, contrasting with the psychedelic soundtracks of the seventies. The photography also becomes darker and somehow more masculine when Yves makes women wear suits for the first time.
Yves’ life is thus rhythmically organized around the different fashion seasons and their systematic artistic tyranny, which the designer only manages to escape when going back to Oran, his Algerian hometown. The history between France and Algeria is rarely evoked in the way Jalil Lespert, the director, did with Yves Saint Laurent: it is at the background to the film and yet echoes in Yves’ parisian life, making it a subtle way to treat with a subject that remains difficult nowadays. Unfortunately, it is not enough to make the film stand out, and as much as it is enjoyable to watch when in the cinema, it is one of these films that are forgotten pretty soon after leaving the dark room.
Yves Saint Laurent, directed by Jalil Lespert, is relased in UK cinema by Entertainment One, certificate 15.