The Two YSL Films Are Out & This is the One to See

According to a review of Bertrand Bonello’s "Saint Laurent" from Variety, which debuted this week at the Cannes Film Festival, it is the one to watch. You may recall that two films centering on the late designer, Yves Saint Laurent, debuted this year.

The first, Jalil Lespert’s film, which has the approval of Pierre Bergé, YSL's partner and co-founder of the design house, and the second, Bonello's, which has faced quite a bit of opposition from Bergé, so much so that he has threatened to sue, saying he “holds the moral rights over YSL’s work, his image and mine and have only authorised Jalil Lespert.”

Now reviews for both films have been released. Lespert's version was met with an array of criticism, much of which centered on suspicions that the film is largely compromised, a "pure corporate self-endorsement", the Guardian wrote. Variety also touched upon the film, referring to it as the "bland, authorized 'Yves Saint Laurent,' which bowed domestically in January, represents the pret-a-porter version of its subject." The same source claims Bonello’s film provides "a less flattering portrait" of the late designer. Read the review below …

Even in a contemporary film culture where no idea seems too thin to try twice, the arrival of two Yves Saint Laurent biopics in the space of five months counts as a distinct curiosity: The enduring influence of the French fashion god, who died in 2008, is beyond question, but his life doesn’t seem an obvious source of fascination to the filmgoing public.

Yet if Jalil Lespert’s bland, authorized “Yves Saint Laurent,” which bowed domestically in January, represents the pret-a-porter version of its subject, Bertrand Bonello’s glossily intuitive vision is pure haute couture — considerably more spectacular, but also less practical, with its baroque ornamentation and slip-sliding chronology. The result, while seductively silly and largely unmoving, does a better job than its predecessor of celebrating Saint Laurent’s flamboyant artistry.

Sony Pictures Classics has already snatched it the film off the rack for the U.S., and should be feeling a little more confident than “Yves Saint Laurent” guardians the Weinstein Co. Still, Bonello’s sexier number must gamble on sustained audience interest in a chilly figure whose life —notwithstanding the drugs, desires and debauchery that go with the high-fashion terrain — wasn’t extraordinarily dramatic.

Bonello’s film covers less chronological ground than “Yves Saint Laurent” but goes a little harder on the hedonism, as you’d expect from the heedless director of “House of Pleasures” and “The Pornographer.” Bonello’s script, written with regular Jacques Audiard collaborator Thomas Bidegain,  focuses less on Saint Laurent’s troubled romance with life partner Pierre Berge (which formed the spine of Lespert’s film) than on his individual neuroses, insecurities and delusions.

As such, it’s a less flattering portrait, with machete-cheekboned Gaspard Ulliel an aloof, glassy presence throughout; he’s a more dreamily charismatic presence than Pierre Niney, the twitchy lead of the last film, though he bears less of a physical or behavioral resemblance to the subject. The upside for Saint Laurent’s admirers is that Bonello’s film reflects more of the designer’s tortured creative drive in its dark onyx surfaces; it’s the slightly deranged auteur portrait that a fellow artist and iconoclast deserves.

Entirely skipping past Saint Laurent’s youth, his early apprenticeship with Christian Dior and the foundation of his relationship with Berge (a fine, under-exploited Jeremie Renier), the film instead begins with the designer at the zenith of his celebrity — coinciding, unsurprisingly enough, with his emotional and spiritual nadir. Somewhat randomly, we open on an addled, depleted Saint Laurent conducting a telephone interview in 1974 — fleetingly recounting his traumatizing Algerian War experience and subsequent electroshock therapy — before rewinding to 1967, where his thriving company hums with high-pressure activity.

The review in its entirety may be found at Variety.