All fashion, no passion: it’s sew-sew
Yves Saint Laurent (M) Limited national release
SOMEONE once told me that the reason fashion models are forbidden to smile on the catwalk is that smiles draw attention to the model’s face and away from the clothes she is wearing — which, in a fashion parade, would never do. Certainly no one smiles much in
a lavish film about the famous French fashion designer directed by Jalil Lespert. Whether Yves Saint Laurent actually invented the po-faced model — along with creations such as the ladies’ tuxedo and dresses with narrower shoulders gently flared at the bottom — isn’t made clear. But we get the distinct impression he took life seriously. According to his long-time lover and business partner, Pierre Berge, Yves was happy only twice a year, in spring and autumn — when his latest designs were unveiled before a respectful media contingent and legions of eager buyers.
The filmmakers are at pains to stress that Saint Laurent was a genius — a creative artist and visionary, presumably in much the same league as Rembrandt, Picasso or Mohandas Gandhi. On every measure of artistic tempera- ment — vanity, eccentricity, self-absorption, unflinching candour and overweening selfesteem — he rated off the scale. For more than 20 years he bestrode the world of fashion like a colossus. While still a teenager he won a competition for young designers and left his family home in French Algeria to settle in Paris. Here he made the acquaintance of the legendary Christian Dior, who recognised his talent and hired him on the spot. When Dior died in 1957, Saint Laurent took over as the firm’s primary designer. He was 21.
In Lespert’s film he is played by Pierre Niney, and comes across as the prototypical aesthete and dandy — gaunt, refined, studious and bespectacled. And judging by old photographs, Niney bears a strong resemblance to the real Saint Laurent. Genius and visionary he may have been, but many will see him as a narcissistic creep, and it’s a brave film that portrays its hero in so unflattering a light — especially a hero whose world revolves around notions of glamour, beauty and style. The film is being promoted as a great love story, but really it’s a film about fashion. We are shown something of the
Yves Saint Laurent darker side of Saint Laurent’s life — his impetuous outbursts, his casual affairs, his manicdepressive illness resulting in a spell in hospital — but the real stars are not people but dresses. Many of them are originals from the Saint Laurent archive or faithful reproductions, and all are lovingly displayed by those familiar troupes of unsmiling ladies. If high fashion isn’t your thing, the film may be something of a let-down.
As a portrait of the hedonistic climate of the times, it has some good moments, even if we’ve seen them all before in La Dolce Vita. Drugs are in plentiful supply, lovers of both sexes are freely shared, many a debauched party is thrown by the likes of Andy Warhol. For the young and vulnerable Yves, Pierre Berge (a solid, nononsense performance by Guillaume Gallienne) must have seemed like a rock of good sense and stability. Theirs may have been a lifelong passion, but not a passion built on lifelong fidelity. Yves had an early flirtation with one of Dior’s models, Victoire Dontreleau (Charlotte Le Bon), who had no trouble seducing him, but soon discovered that he loved boys more than girls. Naturally, things got complicated. His friendship with fellow-designer Karl Lagerfeld (Nicolai Kinski) came under strain when Karl’s lover showed a preference for Yves, much to the displeasure of Pierre. “I love him,” Yves confesses to Pierre at one point, “but you are the love of my life” — a sufficient show of penitence, apparently, to keep their relationship afloat, notwithstanding Pierre’s occasional liaisons with women.
The film’s principal source is a 2002 biography of Saint Laurent by Laurence Benaim, on which the screenplay has been “freely based”. The production notes point out that certain liberties have been taken by the writers (MariePierre Huster, Jacques Fieschi and Lespert), but even within the accepted limits of dramatic li- WELCOME to a fantastic week of home entertainment releases.
Among them are another Academy Award best picture nominee, the gorgeous Australian travelogue the HBO drama starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Costner in another Secret Service drama, Christian Bale and Casey Affleck in Scott ( Cooper’s middling drama,
the stunning European biographical drama and Roger Michell’s delightful oldie-pleaser starring Jim Broadbent. is also out.
DVD Letterbox is a fan of Alexander Payne. How could one not be of the director of and
Consider me now abashed. is a wistful travelogue but not essential. is a more affecting look at the daffy trip across Australian with camel by Robyn Davidson. John Curran’s film is stunning to look at and paints an apt picture of an enigma. The performances of Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver are glorious.
journey is more compelling than the destination but Australian Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is a knockout. In cence the film lacks interest. Nothing much happens. There is no tension, no conflict, no excitement. No one argues with Yves, no one questions his judgment, no one steps out of line.
The one moment of emotional crisis comes when Yves finds himself conscripted for military service, but with this problem resolved, his career resumes its placid upward trajectory, signified by frequent shots of the great visionary at work — sketching designs in pencil or twiddling with pieces of fabric. “How do you intend to tighten the waist without taking it in?” someone demands of Yves early in the film. No problem. A tuck here, a little bit of ribbon there, and hey presto, it’s done! The results may look striking enough — one of Yves’s creative breakthroughs came when he modelled a dress on a Mondrian painting — but we are never excited by the creative process. Perhaps the whole business of fashion design is too ephemeral to arouse deep feelings.
Whatever one thinks of Yves Saint Laurent, fashion films seem to be very much in fashion at the moment. Another Saint Laurent biopic, directed by Bertrand Bonello, had its premiere in Cannes this year; and many critics considered it superior to this one. Two French films about Coco Chanel turned up, months apart, in 2009, one about her love affair with composer Igor Stravinsky, the other about her early life (including her early affairs). In the fashion world, a certain refined promiscuity seems to go with the territory. RJ Cutler’s documentary The September Issue extolled another leader of the fashion industry, Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine for more than 20 years, and I’ve read that a string of notable directors, among them David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and our own Baz Luhrmann, have been asked to direct commercials for Gucci, Dior and other firms. I have yet to see a feature film about Dior himself, but this could be the time for one.
Saint Laurent died in 2008. His good name is jealously guarded by the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, a body set up by his estate to protect copyright in his work and protect his reputation. We are told that Lespert’s film was made with the foundation’s full support and, frankly, it shows. It feels very much like the authorised version of Yves’s career, his triumphs magnified, his excesses glossed over, his failures downplayed. It could almost pass as an in-house promotional video. Rather like Yves’s garments, the film is elegant, sumptuous and beautifully designed. If only there were a little more flesh on its bones, more fire and excitement beneath those unsmiling faces. particular, look for the incredible tracking shot at the end of the fourth episode.
And finally, (MA15+, Disney, 116 min, $29.99). Director Peter Berg (
is known for his bluster, on screen and off. So expectations for his adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s book about a bungled Navy SEALs mission to capture or kill a Taliban leader in 2005 were not high. He hit us with arguably his most subtle film, albeit with one of the most visceral battles committed to screen.
Essentially, the film is three extended scenes. First, a chummy establishment scene sees Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana and others bed their characters at base. Then comes the extended fight as four members are trapped in Taliban territory, followed by the harrowing conclusion.
It is a sensory assault more than a movie, with a moral conundrum and some obvious politics. If you’re ready for a battle, is best at showing the process, not so much the full story. Hannah Arendt (PG) Curious (114min, $32.99) Nebraska (M) Roadshow (110min, $39.95) Le Week-end (M) Transmission (93min, $29.99) Tracks (M) Transmission (112min, $29.99)
Pierre Niney has designs on Charlotte Le Bon’s Victoire Dontreleau in