YSL – The New Biopic Wowing Audiences

Tootlafrance fashion correspondent Marie Marsone checks out the first of two biographical films on the life of haute couturier Yves Saint Laurent

Released in cinemas across France on the 8th of January, the biopic by Jalil Lespert on the life of the late great fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent is already leading the way in ticket sales nationally.

The intrigue begins in 1957, the year that the young Saint-Laurent, aged 21, takes control of artistic direction of the Dior fashion house. In 1958, he presents his first collection, which becomes a big success. The same year, he meets Pierre Bergé who will become his companion soon after and with whom he enters into partnership to found his own couture house after his dismissal by Dior.

Yves Saint Laurent the film is centred on this simultaneously professional and romantic partnership between two very different but complimentary men, illustrating their everyday lives as well as their work lives. In contrast with a lot of biopics on well-known celebrities, Yves Saint Laurent does not simply tell a part of the intimate life of the designer. It relates a great love story on which is founded the career of the creative genius, which is nourished by the presence and support of Pierre Bergé during often tumultuous periods of his life.

Guillaume Gallienne (l) and Pierre Niney (r) receiving direction from director Jalil Lespert

Guillaume Gallienne (l) and Pierre Niney (r) receiving direction from director Jalil Lespert

The performances of the principal actors – Pierre Niney (as Yves Sain-Laurent) and Guillaume Gallienne (in the role of Pierre Bergé) are exceptional. Both members of the national theatre group Comédie Française, they bring the two characters brilliantly to life, each being explored in depth. Pierre Niney, a real rising talent in French cinema (particularly in the wake of his charming turn in 2011’s nostalgic hit “18 Years Old and Rising“), works his role with an impressive precision. In order to bring the famous French designer to life, he watched numerous documentaries and took lessons in design and couture. He also worked on imitating the particular way of speaking of Yves Saint Laurent, his intonations and his gestures. For his part, Guillaume Gallienne (currently riding high in French cinemas as actor, writer and director with his own comedy project “Me, Myself and Mum”) presents the character of Pierre Bergé as a passionate lover, great admirer of the genius of his companion, but also a cool-headed businessman and a redoubtable manager.

Lespert’s third feature film also shines the spotlight on the public face of Saint Laurent and greatly enhances the designer’s first muse – Victoire – a model full of allure and charm played by Charlotte Le Bon (who also played alongside Gallienne and Gerard Depardieu in “Asterix in Britain”). Her presence is a cornerstone one that brings a powerful element of Parisian elegance and natural nonchalant sensuality to the story. Also in the film, is Laura Smet in the role of Loulou de la Falaise, Marie de Villepin (daughter of former French PM Dominique de Villepin) as Betty Catroux and Klaus Kinski’s son Nikolai Kinski as Karl Lagerfeld.

The scenario is dotted with references to the main successes of Yves Saint Laurent: from the Mondrian Collection to the so-called “Ballets Russes” Collection, Lespert retraces the story of the great designer’s most inspiring and most beautiful creations. He illustrates the desire of Saint Laurent to give women access to a wardrobe that was masculine and structured; one which included smoking jackets, suit pants, trench coats or his trademark safari jacket.

The care given to bringing the clothing to the big screen was greatly enhanced by the support given by Pierre Bergé himself to the film. This is a major attraction of the film for any fashion fan and is a consistent point throughout the production. The sketches that appear in the film are all original. Similarly, most of the dresses that appear on the catwalk scenes are original dresses that were loaned by museums or by the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent.

Seen by many critics as a big story where the personal and the professional elements respond to one another and blend continually throughout the film in a manner that is moving and successful, Yves Saint Laurent the film is a must-see spectacle as much for fans of haute couture as it is for the general public who wish to discover the creations and the loves of a passionate and tormented fashion designer who was in love with his art to the last.

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