Yves Saint Laurent – Battle of the Biopics


Two biopics on the late couturier are to be released this year but which of them will win over audience and critics?

Not one, but two films chronicling the life of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent are in preparation this year in France. The first one – simply titled “Yves Saint Laurent” – is due to be directed by Jalil Lespert. In Lespert’s version of YSL’s life, 23-year-old sensation Pierre Niney will play the title role.

The wiry but charming Niney was hailed by many as a rare talent, having impressed both on stage and on screen in the last couple of years, culminating in his César nomination as “best young talent” for his role in Frédéric Louf’s hit comedy “J’aime regarder les filles” (18 Years Old and Rising). He’s up for another nomination at this year’s event for his role in the road movie “Comme des Frères”.

Looking Forward to it: Pierre Niney in last year's 1980s nostalgia hit "J'aime Regarder les Filles"

Looking Forward to it: Pierre Niney in last year’s 1980s nostalgia hit “J’aime Regarder les Filles”

Niney’s sensitivity would, you’d imagine, be perfect for the part, even if his presence might be a little on the fragile side. A major strength of this film project is that the screenplay for it was approved by Pierre Bergé who was YSL’s intimate partner for more than 50 years. Unsurprisingly, Lespert’s version focuses on the love story between the two men. The film’s producer told Le Figaro that Bergé didn’t intervene “in the writing, which was based largely on documentary research and several witness accounts.”

The second project bears the shortened title “Saint Laurent”. It’s being directed by Bertrand Bonello with Gaspard Ulliel playing the principal part of the Parisian designer. 28-year-old Ulliel is a far more familiar face to Irish audiences, having played the young Hannibal Lecter in the 2007 film “Hannibal Rising”. Fans of Audrey Tautou and Jean-Pierre Jeunet will also have seen him as the faithful and resilient young Breton lover in “A Very Long Engagement” and he always makes regular appearances on our television screens in the run-up to Christmas, petulantly storming out of a press conference in the “Bleu de Chanel” adverts.

The Man Who Would be Fashion King: Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent

The Man Who Would be Fashion King: Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent

In many ways, he’s an even better choice than Niney to play a designer: both his parents were stylists so he could easily have ended being another Yves Saint Laurent. His good looks and physical screen presence would also be in his favour. Certainly, the pre-publicity shots of him as Saint Laurent strike the right tone, cigarette dangling from one hand and a nonchalant smile from the corner of his mouth. This film will concentrate less on the love life of YSL and more on the story of his ascension to the pinnacle of the fashion world. It tells how the smoking jacket for women caused such notoriety for Saint Laurent in the 1960s. The only slight hiccup with this second project is that it hasn’t received the imprimatur of approval from Pierre Bergé:

“I retain the moral rights on the works of YSL, on his image and mine and I only accorded Jalil Lespert the authority to exploit it,” said Bergé to Le Figaro.

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