Last night, the New York Film Festival hosted a screening of the new Saint Laurent movie, starring Gaspard Ulliel, Jérémie Renier and Léa Seydoux. This unauthorized biopic of Yves Saint Laurent gives us a look at his life at the height of his career, from the late 60s to 1976. The film documents his romance with his business partner Pierre Bergé and the designer’s affair with Jacques de Bascher, and chronicles the close working relationship Saint Laurent had with his muse Loulou de la Falaise.
The movie is very French. There are hyperbolic declarations of agony, more than a few assertions of ennui (a spectre over the French people) and a few scenes American audiences are sure to find a little bizarre. The “Le Smoking” scene, for instance. It’s an interpretation of an on-set discussion the models had while shooting that iconic ad with Helmut Newton. The models wonder: Did Saint Laurent commit suicide? It was a very odd way of touching on the subject, but that’s French cinema for you. Toward the end of the film, there are flashbacks to the late designer’s childhood, placed at a really odd part of the movie — they don’t really add that much to the narrative. We could have done without one particular scene, involving a young Saint Laurent watching his mother try on clothes.
But what was particularly striking was the depiction of the designer’s drug and alcohol use, which he turned to in order to ease the stress of his busy design schedule. The movie paints a picture of a passionate but overworked Saint Laurent, whose name began to eclipse his personhood. We couldn’t help but see strong parallels between the late Saint Laurent and today’s designers, particularly John Galliano, whose meltdown and subsequent dismissal from his role at Christian Dior was primarily fueled by alcoholism and drug use. Galliano says the pressures of having to churn out so many collections drove him to self-medicate. Little seems to have changed since the late 60s.
France has just submitted the film to be considered for the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category. Could it be a contender? We haven’t seen many foreign films this year, but we can say this: It was visually arresting, the acting was superb and it’s got great storytelling. But if you’re going to watch it, you’d better be a French speaker, or at the very least, OK with doing a lot of reading. The film is about two and a half hours long.