Wednesday, July 16, 2014
French biopic Yves Saint Laurent is at once sincere and reductive. Framed as a reminiscence by his business and life partner Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), the movie sometimes plays like a telefilm truncated for a pre-arranged timeslot on Lifetime. The majority of its running time is allotted for the most interesting part of course, the meteoric rise of Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney). Before becoming a famed couturier in his own right he was an assistant to another fashion icon, Christian Dior, whose untimely death placed Saint Laurent atop the House of Dior as head designer at the unprecedented age of 21. Other formative experiences, such as a hospitalization that included electroshock therapy after his aborted conscription into the French Army, are elided over in a manner not unlike that of a footnote in a magazine profile.
Still, it's hard to dislike Yves Saint Laurent because the titular fashion designer's life was so perfectly made for the movies. The troublesome not-so-secret romantic relationship with Bergé injects the film with a necessary dose of frankness. Niney and Gallienne adeptly covey the chemistry between the two partners and the arc of a romance played out from promising beginning to wearisome denouement in an unfriendly public arena. There's also the soft but insistent pulse lent by the presence of Saint Laurent's iconic and beautiful creations themselves. If Yves Saint Laurent is frustrating as a barely fleshed out biography, it is equally exciting as a sumptuous visual feast.
The misguided decision to let the film just peter out at the end of Saint Laurent's career may possess a certain symmetry with the way the movie starts at the beginning of it. But it also feels like a forced deprivation after the picture has garnered a considerable amount of sympathy for its subject. Yves Saint Laurent is not necessarily an uninteresting experience, but it feels more like a sketch than a fully developed film befitting its subject.