Hollywood has had competing movies about volcanoes, end of the world and superheroes (to name a few). But, leave it to France to do two competing movies about a famously tortured, gay, complicated fashion icon. Well done, you guys, we salute you..
Saint Laurent (not to be confused with Yves Saint Laurent, which is currently streaming on Netflix and makes for the other half of this style viewing sandwich and covers, in terms of the story, the era PRECEDING the one we’re about to talk about) is a 2 hours and 30 minutes long visual roller coaster which rewards and punishes the viewer all at once.
The story focuses on the golden era of Saint Laurent’s fame and influence, and the consequent spiral into insanity: 1967-1974. These are the years right after Le Smoking, Opium was launched, the designer frolicked around with the likes of Andy Warhol, Loulou De La Falaise, Catherine Daneuve and Betty Catroux and also the years where his relationship with longtime partner Pierre Berge was tested the most. In short: A LOT HAPPENED.
Director Bertrand Bonello (The Pornorgrapher, House of Tolerance…) was never one for a traditional narrative and this is both a blessing and a curse in his effort to give the viewer the inside tour of a supremely creative mind (a task that many filmmakers have tried to achieve, but precious few have succeeded in). You DO feel at the center of the action but you’re not quite allowed in.
Choosing the years laced in opiates and sex (and sex on opiates) was probably a conscious decision on his end because there is very little rhyme or reason here as far as the understanding of Yves’ inner workings go: just impulse and a fine balance of creative confidence and personal questioning. Gaspard Ulliel (who has played an extreme character or two in his career, including a young Hannibal Lecter) is perfectly epicine and elegant as the titular character, and the rest of the cast creates the most beautiful frosting to the action whenever they’re around. Leah Seydoux and Aymelie Valade are near perfect as the muses, and Louis Garrel finally finds a movie (Dreamers aside) worthy of his (in this case almost literally intoxicating) gorgeousness.
In the end, it comes down to this: If you are a fashion (and therefore Saint Laurent fan, which this reviewer IS) – this is probably pure heaven for you – the equivalent of leafing through a lavishly executed editorial spread in your favorite slightly risque glossy (you know, the kind Europeans make). If you are not – the episodic nature of the narrative, the relentless swirl of fashion and the madness that inevitably surrounds it, and yes, the probably excessive run time – will probably be tiring.
But fashion, true fashion, takes no prisoners. It is up to you to decide. But no matter what, aim for a big screen and a dark room so you can TRULY get lost in Saint Laurent’s world. There’s no other way.