Movie 'Saint Laurent' shows darker side of a fashion industry icon

'Saint Laurent' shows at Cannes Film Festival despite protestations of the subject's partner

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 3:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 7:12pm

His surviving gay lover Pierre Berge did not want this film to see the light of day.

But on Saturday, the controversial, no-holds-barred story of one of the 20th-century's greatest fashion designers, Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008, screened in competition at Cannes.

The 21/2-hour feature examines how the late couturier's life was torn apart by casual sex and drugs and depicts his charged erotic relationship with a third man, Jacques de Bascher, who died of Aids in 1983.

It is little wonder the movie upset Berge, 83.

Director Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent is a dark and sexually explicit movie, featuring Gaspard Ulliel, who lost weight and bared all to play the title role, and Louis Garrel in the role of Jacques.

It is the second feature film on the legendary designer with the dark-rimmed spectacles in less than six months. Unlike the first, authorised film by Jalil Lespert, the Bonello project was publicly opposed by Saint Laurent's surviving life and business partner, Berge.

Scenes of full nudity, drug use and references to hard gay sexual practices litter the film, spliced with contrasting scenes of the precision of the fashion genius.

The producer says the film was made not to attack Berge but to represent the truth behind the softly spoken creator of the Le Smoking, who remains one of fashion world's most enigmatic figures.

"This film was never intended to be against him [Berge]," said the producer Eric Altmayer. "Our ambition since the beginning was to make a film simply on Saint Laurent. The fact there was this second film liberated us from the constraints of a traditional bio-pic, to go deeper into the truth."

Almost peripheral in the movie are references to Saint Laurent's artistic impact as one of the most mould-breaking designers of the 20th century, a man who irreversibly liberated women's fashion during the 1960s sexual revolution.

Instead the designer is seen near death, frail, undignified and ravaged by pill abuse.

In one of the strongest scenes, his beloved French bulldog, Moujik, dies after munching though myriad pills that have been scattered on the designer's floor as he passes out.

"Yves was born a depressive almost. He had suffered from depression from adolescence at least," said Ulliel, the French actor who donned Saint Laurent's trademark horn-rimmed glasses and bouffant.

"His homosexuality also exposed him to mockery and hasty judgments, as did his fragility and slenderness. Part of his success undoubtedly comes from taking revenge on the hand life had dealt him."

Bonello said he did not set out to make a traditional bio-pic that showed how "Saint Laurent became Saint Laurent".

Instead, he said, he tried to show "what it costs him to be Saint Laurent ... having to deliver four collections a year, being a star", he added in the production notes.

Critics were largely unimpressed, albeit more complimentary than they were about its "bland" rival.

"[The film] while seductively silly and largely unmoving, does a better job than its predecessor of celebrating Saint Laurent's flamboyant artistry," said entertainment magazine Variety.

"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."

The Hollywood Reporter said the screenplay rarely managed to "get inside the head of the self-destructive character the designer had become by the 1970s".

The film was 47 minutes longer than its rival "though to no apparent benefit", it added.

Saint Laurent is one of 18 films in competition for the top Palme d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse


Louise Wilson, beloved professor of fashion at Central Saint Martins, dies

Louise Wilson, the British fashion professor who influenced designers including the late Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo, has died at the age of 52, her college said.

Since 1992 Wilson had been MA Fashion course director at London's prestigious Central Saint Martins College, where John Galliano and Christopher Kane also studied.

Giving her an award in 2012, the British Fashion Council said the Scot was "one of the foremost educators of her generation, whose graduates populate the fashion houses of the world".

In a statement on Saturday, Central Saint Martins said it was "devastated" at her death and offered its condolences to her partner Timmi and son TJ. Vogue magazine reported that Wilson was thought to have died in her sleep on Friday while visiting her sister in Scotland.

Wilson had suffered from breast cancer in the past, but reportedly worked all the way through her treatment.

McCartney, who graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1995, paid tribute to "an inspiration and force in fashion".

"I send my deep sympathy to your family. No one will ever replace you because you were a true one off. Louise we will all miss you r.i.p xx stella," she wrote on Twitter.

Agence France-Presse