Legendary couturier Yves Saint Laurent straddled two worlds. His steady accrual of riches and honors was accompanied by quantities of cocaine and liquor and nervous breakdowns, but Bertrand Bonello's pretentious biopic Saint Laurent simplifies Yves's struggles and smooths them away. Sequences are labeled by year, and following a loose chronology, we jump from one fashion moment to the next. Gaspard Ulliel stars as Yves, and Louis Garrel plays his lover Jacques de Bascher, whose living room contains a meaty leather couch, a gynecologist's stirrup table, and naked men everywhere.
Though Jacques has no job, he has access to an apparently limitless supply of drugs, which he's always on. To establish the force of his dangerous sensuality, we watch Jacques deposit a pill into Yves's mouth as they're kissing. They teasingly pass it back and forth—eventually Yves swallows. This quality of symbolism would be better suited to a karaoke music video. A nearly identical scene occurs later, as if the first weren't enough to drive the point home.
The fact that Yves shared Jacques with his rival Karl Lagerfeld registers as an unimportant detail. But lots of thrilling nuggets like this permeate Yves's true-life story, and Bonello passes them by. Take Yves's 1976 "Carmen" collection for instance. This was a blowout spectacle of nearly 300 outfits he created by working nonstop for three weeks from a hospital bed, having driven himself to the crumbling brink. During the show's closing accolades, Yves was so wildly exhausted his models had to hold him up when he bowed. Once he'd made it offstage, he was whisked straight back to the hospital.
Skipping all this, we get 1976's "Ballet Russes" collection instead. There's some hospital footage, but Yves mostly rests in an opulent mansion on a pill-speckled bed with crisp white sheets. Classical music plays. After a tense couple of seconds, sketches flow easily from his pencils. The show takes place in a chandeliered ballroom, with models walking past in puffy sleeves, puffy skirts, corset belts, and glittering turbans. (If nothing else, the garments in this film bring consistent visual pleasure.) A doctor gives Yves a quick injection before the ending ceremony, so when he strides the catwalk, he exudes dignity and purpose. If this finish feels empty in comparison to what happened in reality, it's because Yves's vulnerability is what made him engaging.
One last thing: Jérémie Renier plays Pierre Bergé, Yves's life partner and business manager. During a licensing negotiation with investors, he calmly piles demands on top of demands. While his acting is impressive, it's weirdly obvious his facial hair is fake, and it becomes hard to focus on anything else.