Like Coco Before Chanel, this French designer biopic is far too respectful of its subject to come to life properly as a movie. It's gorgeous to look at, and features striking performances and a strong central story. But filmmaker Jalil Lespert maintains a too-worthy tone that makes the storyline drag badly, even though there's a strikingly intriguing relationship at the centre.
The film picks up the story of Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney) in the 1950s, when the 21-year-old hotshot is shaking up Paris as a designer for Christian Dior. When military service costs him his job and shakes his mental health, his lover Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne) steps in and becomes his professional partner, helping him establish YSL as an iconic brand. Over the decades Yves reinvents fashion by combining classic looks with imaginative flourishes. As he falls into drugs and alcohol to cope with the overpowering expectations, it's Pierre who keeps him going and manages the company to global powerhouse status. Although outside liaisons put a strain on their personal relationship.
Lespert does a remarkable job at capturing Saint Laurent's visual aesthetic, filling the screen with bold colours, sleek lines and achingly beautiful clothes. The immaculately recreated catwalk shows are stunning, while the raucously staged parties are packed with actors playing iconic figures. But all of these people are little more than bursts of colour in an otherwise glum movie.
At the centre, Niney is terrific as a man who knows he's falling apart while everyone around him celebrates his triumphant success. And he looks great in those skinny suits and geeky specs, even though Yves' diva behaviour and wanton self-destruction make him sometimes unlikeable. Meanwhile, Gallienne is the film's trump card, a controlling presence who actually cares for Yves.
Their rocky relationship is by far the most interesting thing in the film, much more engaging than the stylish excesses and druggy indulgence. So we feel cheated that the film simply skips over the final 30 years of Yves and Pierre's life together. This leaves the film feeling incomplete, as if the screenwriters simply missed the point. In their rush to celebrate a famous designer, they forgot to tell the story of the man.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 8th January 2014
Box Office USA: $0.7M
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company
Production compaines: WY Productions, SND, Hérodiade, Umedia
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 44%
Fresh: 27 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Jalil Lespert
Producer: Yannick Bollore, Wassim Beji
Starring: Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Laurent, Guillaume Gallienne as Pierre Bergé, Nikolai Kinski as Karl Lagerfeld, Charlotte Le Bon as Victoire Doutreleau, Xavier Lafitte as Jacques De Bascher, Laura Smet as Loulou de la Falaise, Marie de Villepin as Betty Catroux, Ruben Alves as Fernando Sanchez, Astrid Whettnall as Yvonne de Peyerimhoff, Marianne Basler as Lucienne Saint Laurent, Adeline D'Hermy as Anne-Marie Munoz, Jean-Édouard Bodziak as Bernard Buffet, Alexandre Steiger as Jean-Pierre Debord, Michèle Garcia as Raymonde Zehnacker, Olivier Pajot as Charles