Saint Laurent: Second, Better Biopic of Top Designer Yves Saint Laurent


The talented French actor Gaspard Ulliel stars as flamboyant, charismatic designer Yves Saint Laurent in Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, a follow-up to his acclaimed feature, “L’Apollonide.”

It’s probably a coincidence that two features about the same designer were made in the same year, the other being “Yves Saint Laurent,” directed by Jalil Lespert, which premiered at the 2014 Berlin Film Fest, in February.

Bonello’s biopic, which played in competition at the Cannes film Fest, in May, is a better if still flawed film. For one thing, it offers a lush and stylish look at the designer’s work and especially lifestyle, dominated by booze, drugs, night clubs, and sexual encounters (both intimate and anonymous).

saint_laurent_posterSet in the swinging 1960s and 1970s, when the name Yves Saint Laurent captivated and inspired people all over the world, the film explores the unique genius and neurosis of an exceptional designer at the height of his fame.

Co-written by the director and Thomas Bidegain (A Prophet, Rust and Bone), Saint Laurent is a coproduction between EuropaCorp and Eric & Nicolas Altmeyer for Mandarin Cinéma (Young and Beautiful).

Centering on the years 1967-1976, this eccentric biopic show how one of history’s greatest fashion designers entered a decade of freedom and changed its look and style—at a price.

As a journey, “Saint Laurent” documents the ups and downs, highs and lows, in both the professional and personal life of the pioneering designer.

The tale’s is bookended by scenes with the designer as an older man, just before his death (played with heavy make-up by German actor Helmut Berger). This framing device, jumping back and forth between the earlier and later years gets increasing tedious and repetitive. (Which may account for the excessive running time of 150 minutes)

The film is stronger in depicting the designer’s personal life, especially his long relationship (both domestic and professional) with his partner, Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier) who survived Saint Laurent and has authorized Lespert’s version.

Nights are spent in cool clubs, where he meets and befriends two women, the tall and gorgeous Channel model Betty (Aymeline Valade), who becomes his muse, and the free-spirited Loulou de la Falaise (Lea Seydoux, miscast).

The story’s second half dwells too much on his obsessive affair with Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel), who introduces him to heavy duty drugs and hot sex. The affair, which has damaging effects on the designer’s career and personal life, finally comes to an end when Berge confronts and threatens Bascher.

In one of the tragic-comic scenes, Saint Laurent’s beloved dog, Moujik, joins in the orgy between the two self-absorbed men, and accidentally swallows a huge quantity of spilled drugs, leading to his demise.

For me, the film’s highlight as far as fashion is concerned is a long sequence, set in 1974, in which the designer unveils his new collection of vibrant and colorful dresses inspired by Moroccan themes. Making excellent use of split screen, we observe how the models dress and parade, with privileged look at their faces, specific parts of their body, legs and shoes.


Directed by Bertrand Bonello

Screenplay: Bertrand Bonello and Thomas Bidegain

Producers: Mandarin Cinéma

Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent
Helmut Berger as Yves Saint Laurent in 1989
Jérémie Renier as Pierre Bergé
Louis Garrel as Jacques de Bascher
Léa Seydoux as Loulou de la Falaise
Amira Casar as Anne-Marie Munoz
Aymeline Valade as Betty Catroux
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Madame Duzer
Micha Lescot as Monsieur Jean-Pierre
Jasmine Trinca as Talitha Getty
Valérie Donzelli as Renée
Dominique Sanda as Lucienne