Great film direction can reflect great fashion. Unlike its direct competition, the earlier 2014 film Yves Saint Laurent, director and co-writer Bertrand Bonello portrays the fashion mogul with saturated palettes of grandeur in Saint Laurent. The prior film is directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Jalil Lespert, who,having less directorial experience than Bonello, doesn’t quite transform the character of Laurent with the vision and divinity as its successor. Where Lespert is almost literal, Bonello is instead deep and as complex as the character himself, picking apart every detail of the icon and the space he walked in.
Co-starring Léa Seydoux as muse Loulou de la Falaise and Louis Garrel as Jacques de Bascher, Saint Laurent’s lover, Bonello’s film poses, to varying effect, as a serious dramatic take on his life. Cinematographer Josée Deshaies enraptures the look and feel of the 60s and 70s high fashion world with lush shots of material items, courtesy of Saint Laurent treasures and collection pieces from the designer’s vault. Although the film is beautiful, indulging the audience in the subject’s talents and temptations, the film becomes more or less exhausting and repetitive, emphasizing the man’s struggles without much relief; costume designer Anaïs Romand’s extensive recreations of many of Laurent’s original pieces seem like an afterthought at times in relation to the focus on Laurent’s big and conflicting persona.
Laurent’s comeback is displayed with a gala runway show, and Bonello splits the screen with a constant rotation of Mondrian-style close-ups of models and accompanying fashion. Amidst the rotation of lavish costumes and parade of gorgeous models, Bonello, despite his memorable editing, ultimately avoids the art of a grand exit. Intriguing as the articulated highs and lows of Yves Saint Laurent’s life are, the lasting impression of Bonello’s film feels just as winded as it is superficially impressive.
– Christopher Clemente