Director: Bertrand Bonello
Stars: Gaspard Ulliel, Louis Garrel
4 (out of 5) Globes
The story director Bertrand Bonello has been hawking is that when he heard someone else was making an Yves Saint Laurent biopic — last year’s more traditioanl “Yves Saint Laurent” — he chucked out the first 20 or 30 pages of the script to his one, called simply "Saint Laurent." Thing is, it’s hard to imagine his film ever being close to normal. It’s a film in love not only with not being a Wikipedia movie (like “Yves Saint Laurent” — sorry this is confusing), but with not even giving you basic facts. It opens in media res, with its version of YSL (Gaspard Ulliel, with a big, sloppy smirk plastered on his face) already a fashion god. The nature of key relationships — including with manager/life partner Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier) and muse Loulou de la Falaise (Lea Seydoux) — remains mysterious, both characters popping in and out of the narrative and sometimes just hanging in the background. It covers nearly a decade and mostly in linear fashion, but the scenes chosen often feel selected at random and don’t always parse as a continuous, focused story.
These are all pros, not demerits, of course, and once one adjusts to the apparent chaos “Saint Laurent” is a movie to get lost in — an old school epic of excess that recalls the stubbornly meandering cinema of Luchino Visconti. To make things slightly easier on the audience, Bonello has chosen to focus on the most movie- and tabloid-friendly chunk of his life: the span from 1967 to 1976, when he was at the bottom of a drug and drink hole, emerging periodically to create the best, most iconoclastic work of his life. The middle section bros down with Saint Laurent and a key play pal: rich party kid Jacques de Bacher (a de-floppy-haired Louis Garrel. They stumble about orgies, lounge about, sleep passed out on floors and share drugs via tongues. (Also unlike “Yves Saint Laurent,” “Saint Laurent” — again, sorry — fully throws itself into sex.)
De Bascher was a minor character in “Yves Saint Laurent” — just a hissable predator who engineered its hero’s fall before his rise. “Saint Laurent” frontloads him, making him one of the great loves of his life. It’s indicative of the film’s overall coolness with debauchery, which goes beyond being merely non-judgmental. Where something like “Yves Saint Laurent” depicts these scenes as out-of-control and purgatorial, “Saint Laurent” presents them calmly and plainly, only raising its fist when a neglected cute dog starts lapping up spilled drugs. If Bonello’s film has any real focus it’s on the way self-destruction is, for those who do it, more comforting than dull reality. Bonello’s gets it — the fun of self-abuse and how it’s tied up in fear of the boring, perhaps creatively drab life that lies on the other side.