Why you should go and see YVES SAINT LAURENT
Yves Saint Laurent defies the Fashion biopic narrative to challenge film's changing gaze of sexuality within a shifting culture spanning over the decades, from 1950s Algeria to 1990s Paris.
First things first- this is not a biopic of the working life of Yves, nor is it a reflection on how his life shaped his clothes (just a mere mention of his 60s influences are included in the feature.) When we first meet Pierre Niney's Yves he is already an established member of fashion society, working as the genius first assistant to Mr Dior himself. What we see instead is how he feels when he is drawing, the calm crosses his features and a small smile manages to creep onto his lips. He is decisive, deliberate and talented when he is creating. "If I can't create, then I will die" he breathes later on in the film. The opening scenes have already confirmed to us that this may be true.
The film's fixation with Yves lingers when we meet Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), the camera now seeing Yves as more than a fashion designer but an elegant and desirable protagonist. We are treated to a bashful and easy relationship during the 50's, the pair wide-eyed and chasing each other along the Seine makes for charming viewing, with the backdrop of Paris richly draped in dappled colours. Their delight in each other is the core of the beginning of the film; childlike, innocent and sincere.
As the year's go on (Director Jalil Lespert tends to jump through time where there isn't enough turbulence in Yves personal life) the gay community develops more of a voice and interestingly this is where the tension takes hold. It seems as though the freedom felt by the community has freed Yves from the confines of his solid relationship- he spirals out of control, escalated with drink and drugs and acting and looking like the antithesis of his former self; as though he is staring through a cracked mirror.
Yves is essentially a flawed protagonist. Indeed, to hold him up against the confident, dominant power of Pierre is to further emphasise his struggle for self belief and worth. As Pierre states in his voice over "Yves was happy just twice a year, in Spring and in Autumn."
If Lespert wanted to make a biopic for fashionistas to have on their shelf, more would have been made of Yves' obvious life milestones (like his disastrous attempt to enlist in the army- the film cuts to the point of his nervous breakdown and diagnosis of manic depression with little information of how he got there) Lespert instead is deliberately only telling the story of how Yves life was shaped by this famous love affair and how key relationships in his life affected his growth as an icon. Everything beyond that is given to us in a snapshot.
Is there fashion though? Why yes, and just enough to keep us sublimely contented that we chose to see this movie. The season showcases and finale couture catwalk are so rich in detail and so wonderfully lit that you are very much paid off. The film has a visceral quality in keeping with the classic theme of Yves work that makes this a gem of the emerging "new-wave" European Queer cinema, but this I feel will transcend into the mainstream- as it should.