Yves Saint Laurent

Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent's work was remarkable. But his life, it seems, was not.
Tom Clift
Published on June 23, 2014


There are all sorts of bad movies. Some, like Palo Alto, smack of pretention and self-indulgence. Others, like Grace of Monaco, are poorly written and incompetently made. Yet others, like The Rover, fail on a level that is more difficult to quantify, unable to deliver a satisfying experience in spite the qualities they possess.

Then there are movies like Yves Saint Laurent. For them, the word 'bad' seems inappropriate, because it suggests that they are in any way noteworthy. A French-language biopic on the eponymous fashion icon — a man whose name and designs altered the world of luxury clothing forever — Yves Saint Laurent is so bland, conventional and boring that it barely registers as a movie at all.

Actor-turned-director Jalil Lespert follows the biopic playbook to the inoffensive letter. Guillaume Gallienne plays Laurent's long-time lover and business partner, whose wistful voiceover gives a rose-coloured tint to the already obsequious treatment. YSL himself is played by the gangly Pierre Niney; the competent enough actor saddled with a totally uninteresting role.

And therein lies the film's biggest problem: Laurent's arc — from youthful prodigy to cocksure rebel to lonely, introverted genius — is one that we've seen played out literally hundreds of times before. So we watch, with utter indifference, as he alienates his friends and turns an industry on its head. Or so we're told, anyway. Thinly drawn side characters flit in and out as the years go by, each there to remind us that Laurent is changing the game. At a certain point, you just have to take their word for it.

To be fair, even a layman can recognise the beauty of his designs, which Lespert trots out in montage after golden-hued montage. For fashionistas, at least, the film gives you plenty nice to look at. But clothes, despite what the old adage says, do not make the man. Laurent's work was remarkable, but his life, unfortunately, was not.

So we're left with a film that is purely surface level, and that fades from your memory the second the end credits role. In some ways, you actually wish it were worse, because at least then there'd be something more to say about it. If nothing else, Grace of Monaco was fun to make fun of. Yves Saint Laurent doesn't even give you that.


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