Revisiting Saint Laurent

Last night I’ve re-watched the Cannes Film Festival Palm d’Or nominee Saint Laurent by Bertrand Bonello starring Gaspard Ulliel, Léa Seydoux, Louis Garrel and Jérémie Renier. Even though I’ve waited for months to watch this film for the first time back in 2014, I couldn’t remember how hypnotic, sensual and strange this film was. Some films seem to get better with time, and Saint Laurent is definitely one of them. Released at the same year of Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent, which got Pierre Niney a Cesar Award, Bertrand Bonello’s version seems to stand out by focusing on the excesses and paranoia of one of the most famous designers of the world.

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Gaspard Ulliel is the actor who gives voice to Yves Saint Laurent, a handsome feminine stylish designer who is more interested in listening to the music than his secretary talking about the exciting events that are about to take place with Françoise Hardy, Catherine Deneuve, and Marguerite Duras. He receives letters from Andy Warhol but both of them agree that art is not interesting anymore and they feel like they have lived everything they were supposed to live and nothing excites them anymore. That’s what stands out the most in Saint Laurent. Unlike Jalil Lespert’s film, Bonello gives us a pessimistic and boring version of the glamorous life of the fashion designer to explain his excessive lifestyle, who when is not working, is going to clubs, traveling to Marrakesh, buying extremely expensive pieces of art and meeting men in orgies. Yves Saint Laurent’s accomplishments are not in the film and is definitely not the point of Bonello’s film. Just like Yves character, his deeds are not interesting to them.

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With that, Saint Laurent is built is a loosely non-chronological order, where years passes in matters of seconds through the screen. Only a few events are captured with attention, like Yves relationship with Jacques de Bascher or the collection of 1976. The rests are small fragments of a luxurious life, sometimes hypnotic to watch and sometimes somewhat boring, just like the view of Yves Saint Laurent towards life. And yet, Bonello plays with that in very interesting ways, like an argument between him and his partner, Pierre Bergé, that lasts around five seconds and appears out of nowhere in the film. Or like Yves Saint Laurent’s visions of snakes around him and a scene where he is found beaten up in a construction site without any explanation. Is a mysterious film, interesting to discover its secrets and extremely seductive at the same time for exposing a life which parties, glamour, and sex are always in the background.

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These are also extremely fun subjects to play with on-screen, and Bonello knows how to play with excessive since he did House of Pleasures, a strange and sensual film about a high-class brothel in Paris in the early 1900s. Most of the scenes of the film are inside of clubs, cruising places in Paris and fashion runaways. Not mentioning the incredible music that Bonello chose and is an extremely important character in the film as it’s being played all the time. It’s what drives characters to do things in several scenes, like when Yves meets the Chanel model on the dance floor, or when he first sees Jacques de Bascher, or even when Warhol sends the Velvet Underground album to him and explain how he decided to produce this band from New York that is unlike anything he has ever seen.

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Saint Laurent is a movie about pop culture, the glamour of fashion and the decadence of it all. Like the character says in the film, “I’ve created a monster and now I have to live with it”. And what a beautiful, strange and curious monster. Not mentioning Gaspard Ulliel delivers probably the performance of his career (a little better than Pierre Niney, even though I also love him and think are two different approaches of YSL). Bertrand Bonello continued his filmography with Nocturama, which also talks a little bit about the excess of pop culture in society and how it affects younger generations, making him definitely one of modern French director to pay attention to. Just like Saint Laurent, a movie that definitely deserves to be rediscovered through the re-watches.