Jalil Lespert’s film treats its hero with a high seriousness that not even Niney’s uncanny portrayal of YSL’s artistry and mental fragility can justify.
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As elegant as the man's clothes, this handsome biopic traces 20 incident-filled years in the life of the designer.
Though the screenplay, based on Laurence Benaim’s biography, is all build-up and no payoff, there is just enough emotional insight to compensate for the lack of narrative fireworks in the last half-hour.
Sadly, this polite film, though touching in places, is so desperate not to offend, it’s the film equivalent of sensible shoes. Diehard fashionistas may disagree.
For all of the supposed passion and anguish in Saint Laurent's clothing and relationships, Jalil Lespert consistently neglects to imbue the film with such a comparable level of ambition or desire.
Clothes make the man, but can’t save the film, in Yves Saint Laurent, in which the life of one of haute couture’s great innovators gets disappointingly by-the-numbers treatment.
Over the twenty-odd years the film covers, Saint Laurent is scene-by-scene depicted as a genius, a manic-depressive, a polyamorist, a drug taker, a mercurial friend, a partier and a terribly, terribly sensitive soul. He undoubtedly was all of these things and more, it's just a pity he doesn't also come across as a person.
With Yves Saint Laurent, Lespert has played it safe but stylish, and pulls it off thanks to some canny casting choices and a refreshing focus on mainstream appeal.
The film's purpose is the reverent mystification of everything that avowedly makes YSL special.
Rather than do something freshly cinematic with Saint Laurent’s precise, elegant creations, the film is content to exhibit them.