He was the very image of a tortured genius, but Yves Saint Laurent remains one of the most compelling figures in fashion. And it seems filmmakers cannot get enough of YSL's style.
Yves Saint Laurent was one of the best-known names in the world of fashion in the latter part of the 20th century, working in the industry from 1957 until his death in 2008. He is gaining quite some cinema interest because there was a documentary film made about him, L'Amour Fou, something of a tribute from his partner, Peter Berge, but highlighting the main features of his life and career. Along with the present film under review, there is another film of the same name with Gaspar Ulliel in the title role.
This biopic is interesting when it gives some background to Saint Laurent's background, his growing up in Algeria, his roots both in Algeria and in France, his work in Paris, especially becoming assistant to the then celebrated Christian Dior. Though young, he was inventive in his imagination, his visualising of shapes and designs, his inspiration in the geometry of designing dresses, his use of colour, and his talent for creativity.
At first, he seems a rather shy young man, nevertheless eager to succeed in his chosen career. The film reveals his crisis about being drafted for serving in the French military in the early 1960s in the Algerian war. At first reluctant, he was interviewed by the press and criticised. He decided to register but was soon found to have tendencies towards depression and was temporarily placed in an institution. He was fired by the boss of the company – but, with the help of an astute lawyer, and a pay out, he was able to found his own house of design. And he continued with this over the decades.
For those who are interested in and enjoy fashion, a great deal of attention is given in the film to the various shows, especially the bright shapes in the mid-1960s, the darker images of the early 1970s, the influence of Russia in the mid 1970s.
The film shows his meeting with Peter Berge, their long-term relationship, and Peter Berge's custody of the Saint Laurent's heritage, his fashion work as well as their large collection of artwork.
But, for a lot of the film, the audience becomes something of a voyeur audience, with a touch of the Peeping Tom, in being drawn into the designer's private life, his sexual activities, his seeming recklessness, his infatuations and betrayals, his moods and eccentricities. He was not always a very nice person. We are offered a lot of information, visualised, that we probably did not need to know.
Which means that for those interested in the designer's career, it is better to recommend the documentary rather than this more prurient look into his life.
- Reviewed by Fr Peter Malone MSC, an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Yves Saint Laurent, France. Starring Pierre Niney, Guillaume Galliene, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet. Directed by Jalil Lespert. Rated M (Sex scenes and drug use). 105 minutes. Icon. Released on Thursday, June 26 2014.