By Ethan Sapienza
Betrand Bonello’s “Saint Laurent” is described as such: “1967 – 1976. As one of history’s greatest fashion designers entered a decade of freedom, neither came out of it in one piece.” Short, elegant, and to the point, the film only translates the elegance. At around an hour and a half in, “Laurent”’s running time becomes noticeable, an unfortunate realization given that there is still an hour more to the movie. Nevertheless, meaningful performances and intellectual complexity salvage what could have easily been a lengthy, sinful mess.
Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) was a maverick in the fashion business, given the way the film treats his prominence. No time is spent discussing his origins, though it’s mentioned in passing, as almost the entire film focuses on his personal life. Progression takes a backseat, as a more relaxed approach to storytelling is used. Scenes flow from one to another with some ordinance and only the year is given occasionally as a marker.
This relaxed storytelling can be a nuisance, as characters are given no introduction, flow in and out, and at points the film itself is difficult to follow. One of the worst scenes in the film is a rather superfluous exchange focusing on Yves’s business partner (I believe his name is Pierre Bergé, played by an aggressive Jérémie Renier, though am unsure as names are rarely definitively given). He discusses taking more control of the YSL brand with an American businessman, speaking rather drolly as the entire conversation is quite annoyingly mediated by a translator. Such nuances are totally unnecessary in a film, especially one that runs too long, and such business matters could have been easily summarized in dialogue later.
The laissez faire, wandering storytelling is used to wonderful effect for the most part. It allows for actors to wholly embody the film, which is done wonderfully. Ulliel is delightful; exhaustion weighs down his face as time progresses, though his weariness is combated by an undying resilience and hunger for debauchery. Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel), Yves’s lover, seductively introduces psychedelics and other intensive drugs, giving the film a greater texture. Loulou de la Falaise (Léa Seydoux) and Betty Catroux (Aymeline Valade) liven up the screen with each appearance, proving to be loving companions to the fashion mogul.
The storytelling also proves to establish Saint Laurent’s gross descent into drugs, worn down by immense sex and alcohol. Increasingly disjointed and surreal, it’s depressing to see the man become a mule in need of drugging to simply stand. This is not to say the film is never a pleasure to watch. Visually, it’s stunning. Every frame is inspired and artistic, while utilizing and establishing space in a meaningful and beautiful manner. Often times mirrors are employed, both to enhance the spatial construct and imply a self obsession.
Bonello has an immense understanding of framing the human body. Numerous club scenes may seem arbitrary in concept, though they fantastically show the curves and motion of the body, as decadent clothing drapes and swings and the camera curiously flows around them. The dress in particular is key, as it progresses accurately with the times, never faltering in precision and excess. Then again, anything less than a drug-infused visual obsession of well-dressed people would have been a certain disappointment.
Ethan Sapienza is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.