It feels as though Cannes has a new rule that a biopic has to hit the screens everyday. After Grace Kelly and JMW Turner, today is the turn of fashion designer Yves St Laurent to have his life examined on the big screen.
Directed by Bertrand Bonello, Saint Laurent stars Gaspard Ulliel as Yves and Jeremie Renier as his long term partner Pierre Bergé. The focus is on the years between 1967 and 1976, although a few scenes towards the end of the film flash forward to his later years when he is on his fourth Moujik – in an unusually loveless system whenever his dog died he replaced it with a similar looking French Bulldog and gave it the same name.
Much had happened in St Laurent's life before the action seen on screen. By 1967 St Laurent had already been head designer at (and been fired from and sued) Dior, been conscripted into the French army, been discharged and developed a drug problem in a military hospital. However Bonello has chosen to focus on a period where Yves' issues were on a much smaller scale. A strange choice to leave all that material behind and look for drama in a man sketching dresses.
We join the story when Yves St Laurent is already not just a man's name, but the title of a company that he part-owns along with Pierre. Bergé is clearly the brains behind turning YSL into a global enterprise and though the film's title implies a focus on the man himself, there are also sequences of Pierre negotiating over licenses with American investors. Such scenes won't excite the many people who come to see this film for the fashion history.
There is a problem built into the concept of making a dramatic film about someone's life. There has to be something dramatic to dramatise. If filmmakers do make changes for dramatic effect they are often derided. But documentary and drama are different things. A biopic tries to be a bit of both and manages to be neither. Here it is clear that the lives of successful fashion designers are no more interesting than those of anyone else. Indeed, like most lives what happens in St Laurent's life isn't that interesting to other people.
The film isn't helped by a gimmick when the screen divides in two and a montage shows the news events of the late Sixties combined with examples of YSL dresses from each year. The 1968 protests on the left-hand side overwhelm the dresses on the right and make you wonder what you are doing spending 2.5 hours watching the goings on in the life of a man who spent those rebellious years making beautiful clothes.
If you don't know much about St Laurent before the film you won't know a whole lot more afterwards, even though the film clocks in at a whopping two and a half hours. To make that time commitment to a film viewers should be able to expect to learn something very interesting, be royally entertained or discover something of vital importance. Instead they will dice with boredom. St Laurent has attractive period costumes and Ulliel is a charming screen prescence but St Laurent is an overlong and expensive recap of the fashion icon's life.
Of possible interest to his friends and admirers.
The Flaneur verdict: TWO STARS