Friday, May 15, 2015

"Saint Laurent": rather personal biography of the famous fashion designer, at the height of his career

Saint Laurent”, directed by Bertrand Bonello, is a snazzy biography (dramatized) of the peak years of the career, and accompanying gay love life, of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel). 
The film is framed at two levels.  At the beginning, we’re in 1974, when Yves, now 38, checks into  hotel in Paris to do an interview that could lead to legal problems (not well explained).  The movie then takes us back to the mid 1960s and marches forward.  In the last forty minutes or so, an old Yves remembers the end of the height of his career, and imagines an obit in 1977. Actually, according to Wikipedia, the career went on a long time.  Yves, apparently having escaped HIV, died of a brain tumor in 2008 (right after a male civil union)  at 72. 
The film shows some of relevant history, fast-framed. These include the 1968 French student riots (also a backdrop for Bertolucci’s 2004 film “The Dreamers”) as well as Vietnam War protests in the US.  It barely mentions St. Laurent’s early days at Dior, and the effect of his conscription in 1960 into the Algerian uprising (remember the film “The Battle of Algiers”).  Yves himself was born in Algeria.
Of course, it’s the love life that keeps one’s attention.  There’s an effective early disco scene, with 70s music reminding me of my own time in New York.  For a long time, his lover would be Jacques (Louis Garrel).  The film is very explicit in a few scenes, with total nudity, but in other scenes the camera tilts away, as in one tragic scene where a beloved dog eats pills and will die of the overdose.  I suspect the DVD will have a director’s cut or deleted scenes with more “detail”.  There’s a party with a barber chair, which is not really used to its full potential.  Yves, as a 30-something adult, is shown as slender and attractive, but starting to dwindle from his chain-smoking and drug abuse. 
The film is rather long (at 150 minutes) but keeps moving.
The official site is here (Sony Pictures Classics; Europa).

The film uses the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto #20 in D Minor, especially the opening orchestral ritornel, to establish a sense of foreboding at spots.  
I saw the film in the AMC Shirlington before a small audience Friday night.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Paris De Gaulle airport (my last visit 1999), photo by David Monniaux, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike license.

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