The opening film of this year's French Film Festival in HK is called simply "St. Laurent", starring the well-chosen Gaspard Ulliel as the sensitive and unpredictable and famous designer Yves St. Laurent (1936-2008), Helmut Berger as the older Yves Saint Laurent in 1989, Dominique Sanda as his mother Lucienne Saint Lauren, Jérémie Renie as his former lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé, Louis Garrel as Jacques de Bascher, the lover Yves could never quite forget,Léa Seydoux as Loulou de la Falaise who knew instinctively almost exactly the kind of effect and mood that the famous designer may wish to achieve with his designs, his original forms, his colors, the texture of the fabric and accessories and who later became its chief designer after old master left and YSL became a listed company producing not only for the elite but also for the mass market.
YSL's greatest desire was to create art like a Mondrian: the simplicity, the strength and purity of whose straight lines and almost clinical but contrasting colors appealed to him as much as the warmth, freedom, the ethereal qualities of the fluid lines and heavenly lightness of Matisse: two apparently incompatible sides of the young YSL whose mind seemed continually sourced by an almost inexhaustible fountain of ubullient creativity, his inspiration pouring out as he immersed himself in either classical or electronic music whilst his fingers raced feverishly upon pages after pages traces of his ideas which were then torn off from the small white note pads at his little wooden desk, from the young YSL dressed meticulously for work behind his desk, day after day, with a will of iron like the lines of Mondrian's painting, no matter how riotously he spent his nights a few hours earlier. However, Yves seemed utterly incapable of handling the mundane routines of his life, like where he would live, how to get the kind of articles that took his mercurial fancy or changing a light bulb and whatever else he needed, which Bergé would invariably supply even before he opened his mouth.
In this film Bertrand Bonello concentrated on how the artist worked and relaxed with some of the models he hired and which inspired him, the lovers that he took, the trust he had in Bergé and his team of dedicated seamstresses and assistant designers, putting series after series of original designs before the eyes and to the continual surprise and delight of his admirers: the masculine look he invented for the ladies, taking his inspiration from Joan Crawford, his bold use of Arab and Indian colors and style, his imaginative post-modern mix and match, with utter disregard for time, place and culture. Our eyes are unceasingly dazzled by the boldness, elegance and beauty of his designs, a literal feast of colors and moving forms bursting with life and vitality. We are shown creativity in action, interspersed by the director's interpretation of how the personal life of this whimsical genius of fashion formed part and parcel of his endless inventiveness. There's hardly a dull moment. We're shown his sensitivity, his fragility, his devotion, his dedicatedness to whatever he was doing punctuated by moments of creative rut and the ensuing temperamental outbursts when he found his ideas no longer flowed as easily as he would have liked. Yet he never failed to deliver, despite the cut throat speed and relentless pressures of deadlines, season after season. The film ends when YSL decided to quit when he felt he could no longer have anything meaningful to offer and spent his time looking at his precious private art collection and drifted into the world of imagination through his music. In this film, Bonello let us have a glimpse of the man, not just the glamour surrounding the commercial symbol YSL.
The casting and the acting was excellent. So is the music and the snippets of YSL's most innovative designs. As a man normally immune to ladies fashion, I begin to have an inkling of why women were crazy about his designs from the fabric of this film, wonderfully stitched together with as much care as YSL devoted to his designs. But all good things must come to an end. It was a good decision that he announced in the 1980's that he would cease working: it was an age where people didn't really care for good taste any more! Everything has to "adapt" to a faceless and characterless "market"! It's not an age he would have been happy to live with. He was wise to stick with his art and his world of reverie, to which he truly belonged.