Magazine article Artforum International

All about Yves: Melissa Anderson on Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent

Magazine article Artforum International

All about Yves: Melissa Anderson on Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent

Article excerpt

BEYOND MERELY RECAPITULATING the high and low points of a celebrated life, Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent distills a mood and a milieu. This heady, sinuous biopic of Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008), arguably the greatest couturier of the second half of the twentieth century, forgoes the tedious birth-to-death arc found in so many films of the genre to focus instead on the years 1967 to 1977. The time frame may be restricted, but the decade depicted was marked by YSL's most storied excesses, whether in the atelier, on the runway, at the discotheque--or at the orgy. Bonello, who cowrote Saint Laurent's script with Thomas Bidegain, honors his subject's design genius and dissipation equally, without banalizing either.

That Bonello has found ways to invigorate material rehearsed several times before only adds to his project's singularity. Saint Laurent is the fifth feature-length work on the eminent designer, following three documentaries (David Teboul's 2002 diptych Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times and Yves Saint Laurent: 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris and Pierre Thoretton's L'amour fou of 2010) and Jalil Lespert's biopic Yves Saint Laurent, which was released in France just four months before Bonello's film premiered at Cannes last May. Concentrating on the years 1957 (when YSL became the head of Dior at the age of twenty-one) to 1976, Lespert's movie dramatizes several of the same incidents found in Bonello's, but with the dutiful, dull, never-too-undainty pageantry that typifies the docudrama. (Significantly, of the two biopics, only Lespert's was made with the cooperation of Pierre Berge, YSL's partner in love and/or business for fifty years and the tenacious guardian of his legacy.)

Resisting soap operatics, Bonello instead emphasizes the sensory, occasionally disorienting the viewer. As in the director's House of Pleasures (2011), which traces the final months of an upscale Parisian brothel at the dawn of the twentieth century, Saint Laurent isn't moored to a strict chronological presentation. The movie opens in 1974, as YSL--played by Gaspard Ulliel, whose strong resemblance to the lithe, oddly handsome designer certainly enhances but never overpowers the actor's intelligent interpretation--checks into a hotel as M. Swann, the pseudonym alluding to the couturier's beloved fellow aesthete and neurasthenic, Proust. This scene, as well as a few others, will later be repeated but shot from a different angle; further scrambling the sense of time is the unheralded apparition, roughly two-thirds into the movie, of a senescent Saint Laurent, a fatigued figure who reappears intermittently. …

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