All fash­ion, no pas­sion: it’s sew-sew

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM REVIEWS - Evan Wil­liams This week

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

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