Pierre Nimey tends to a model in "Yves Saint Laurent." Credit: The Weinstein Company Pierre Nimey tends to a model in "Yves Saint Laurent."
Credit: The Weinstein Company

'Yves Saint Laurent'
Director: Jalil Lespert
Stars: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

The fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent not only finally gets his own biopic; he’s getting two. The new “Yves Saint Laurent” is not to be confused with “Saint Laurent,” the latter, which just played Cannes, a more abstract piece by Bertrand Bonello (“House of Pleasure”) and starring Gaspard Ulliel and Lea Seydoux. This one puts newcomer Pierre Niney in the lead and generally seems the more straightforward one. Here’s what it does right and less right:

It’s a straight-up biopic


Unlike the Bonello, this follows the genre to a T, genuflecting before a flawed Great Man as he discovers his talents, hits his stride, nearly bottoms out, then rebounds. Real lives aren’t quite so tidy, but the biopic genre comforts us by showing that for some people, it actually is. (Or by ignoring all the complexities and combining people into composites, their lives can be made to seem tidy.)

It does have a very wild arc


Niney is tasked with a lot. He’s not only playing a major icon whose private life most don’t know. He also has to go from almost unbearably shy to drugged-out and crazy. Two scenes stand out in his wild evolution, both of them interviews: The first, when he’s just getting his start, has him so remote that he quietly terminates the interview, just because he got distracted. In the second, after he’s gone from teetotaler to regular boozer and imbiber of who knows what else, he’s a giggly over-sharer.

Guillaume Gallienne plays Pierre Berge, the lover of Pierre Nimey's Yves Saint Laurent (to the right of him). Credit: The Weinstein Company Guillaume Gallienne plays Pierre Berge, the lover of Pierre Nimey's Yves Saint Laurent (to the right of him).
Credit: The Weinstein Company

 

The film too has two very distinct sections


Director Jalil Lespert really directed two movies. The first is a tasteful French period drama, one that could almost be parodied a la “They Came Together.” It’s all hesitant glances and soft piano over warm hues and tasteful camerawork. You could take your grandma to this film and she would thank you. But then — with the sounds of no less a ’60s movie soundtrack cliche than “Time Has Come Today” — the tone shifts to decadent and raucous, with Saint Laurent discovering mega-fame and drugs and “creepy” orgies, leading to an inevitable downfall.

There’s still not a lot to it


The familiar rise-and-fall trajectory isn’t helped by an overall slimness. The story actually just stops right as Saint Laurent has chilled out, settling into a comfortable groove with his more calm longtime partner, businessman Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne). This might seem a good thing, stopping right before things get boring and domestic. But it betrays the conceptual thinness, the way it’s whittled the story down to exposition, big reveals, parties and little more. It lacks the minimal insight into its subject’s mind, as in “Coco Before Chanel,” which benefitted from a protagonist who’s reserved in a different way. Yves Saint Laurent changed the world; "Yves Saint Laurent" simply follows procedure.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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