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Review: Yves Saint Laurent (2014)

Director: Jalil Lespert | 104 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin, Nikolai Kinski, Ruben Alves, Astrid Whettnall, Marianne Basler, Adeline D’Hermy, Xavier Lafitte, Jean-Édouard Bodziak, Alexandre Steiger, Michèle Garcia, Olivier Pajot,

The trapezoid dress was designed by him, as was the Mondrian dress and the tuxedo for women. Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) was also responsible for numerous fashion trends, such as the trouser suit, the beatnik look and pointed boots that reached thigh height. Without the influence of this renowned French designer, our fashion image would have looked very different. At the age of seventeen, the child prodigy started working at the fashion house of Christian Dior; four years later the great master died and YSL was allowed to take over. His innovative designs were particularly successful. But as is often the case with exceptionally talented people, those successes also had a downside. Yves Saint Laurent suffered from depression and fled into alcohol and drugs. He was often supported by his business partner and great love Pierre Bergé, who knew him like no other and with whom he founded his own fashion house in 1961. Their relationship went through high peaks but also deep lows, which led to an inevitable divorce in 1976. But they would remain friends and business associates until Saint Laurent’s death in 2008.

The relationship between Bergé and Laurent is central to the biographical film “Yves Saint Laurent” (2014) by first-time filmmaker Jalil Lespert. The story begins when Yves (very well played by Pierre Niney, who resembles the fashion king like two drops) is allowed to take over the management of the fashion house Dior in 1957. We see how his star is rising and how he and Bergé (equally convincingly portrayed by Guillaume Gallienne) kick sacred houses when trying to set up their own fashion house. Each new phase in YSL’s life is heralded with a scene from a fashion show. In those shows we also see the state of mind of the fashion king reflected. Director Lespert was lucky that he received full cooperation from the famous fashion house, and thus can show all the splendor – in original condition. This underlines the authenticity of what we see. But whether the picture sketched of YSL is completely in accordance with the truth, is of course the question. Because in exchange for Saint Laurent’s original work, his “inheritance” obviously wanted to have a say in the way in which the best man is portrayed.

That does not mean that all his less pleasant sides have been swept under the carpet; we can see that he is fighting his demons with drugs and alcohol and that he is burdened with immense pressure to perform every season again. But his difficult sides are largely covered with the mantle of love. Only occasionally do we see his manic side, thanks to the excellent playing of the only 24-year-old Niney. Furthermore, “Yves Saint Laurent” is mainly an ode to the genius of the fashion king. It has been a smart choice for Lespert to focus primarily on the special bond Saint Laurent had with Bergé, because portraying the virtuosity of an artist is not easy. That is why the director gets to rub his hands with Niney and Gallienne, two top actors who can often say more with a look than with words. Add to that the sumptuous decoration and stylish camerawork and you hardly care anymore that this biopic sometimes leaves something to be desired in depth.

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