Monday, August 15, 2016

Bertrand Bonello | Saint Laurent

remembrance of things past

by Douglas Messerli

Bertrand Bonello and Thomas Bidegain (screenplay), Betrand Bonello (director) Saint Laurent / 2014

Bertrand Bonello’s film Saint Laurent was the second Laurent film of 2014. Whereas Lespart’s version, while certain revealing many of Laurent’s excesses, focused more on his career, this second “unauthorized” movie, digs in its heals about expressing the more tawdry aspects of the great designer’s life.

      As opposed to the elegantly appointed offices of Yves Saint Laurent, where during the day Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) and his employees, dressed in white lab-coats, work endlessly to make runway deadlines, his night-time activities—if this film is to be believed—was a dirty world of grungy gay park sex, drugs, and light (or maybe not so light) S&M, particularly when Karl Lagerfeld’s boy-toy Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel) enters Saint Laurent’s life. Mostly, however, these night-owls seem to spend most of their lives lounging about while watching others pretend to have fun, or just lying about on divans while popping pills and swigging down bottles of gin, scotch, and champagne. Despite the garish colors of his film’s night world (reminding some critics of the films of Luchino Visconti, perhaps because Helmut Berger—Visconti’s long-time lover—plays Saint Laurent as an old man) most of these scenes seemed to be to be overlong and boring, even with the various stunningly beautiful models such as Loulou de la Falaise (Léa Seydoux) and Betty Catroux (Aymeline Valade) on his arm.       
     Certainly there are memorable scenes such as when Saint Laurent’s beloved dog Moujik woofs down a bottle of spilled pills and dies, and the moment when Saint Laurent’s business partner and former lover Bergé (Jérémie Renier) is forced to retrieve Saint Laurent’s badly beaten body from a field of rock piles where he has clearly snuck out to have sex with Arab boys. But for the most part, using Renier primarily as a silent witness-bearer and fixer-up, Bonello insists that the designer and his empty-headed pretty boys and girls speak in banal sentences, such as when his lead mouths, as he stands in his Marrakech garden, “this smells exactly like it does in Oran” (his Algerian birthplace) or when he admits “I’m only 33 but feel like I am a very old man.”  Certainly the life of this jet-setter does not appear to have been much fun!
       And when we do catch glimpses at the designer’s creations, it is in the form of long stretches of the “time marches on” genre, in which  models descending a long winding staircase of his atelier share a split screen listing the years as they pass across from a posting of black and white images of appropriate historical moments.


     The one long scene in which we actually do get to see parts of an actual fashion show represents the famed Ballet Russes showing, featuring costumes which one cannot imagine anyone wearing to even the most over-the-top of events.
     More convincing is the scene where a customer, Madame Duzer (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) arrives for a fitting of her Le Smoking tuxedo suit. As she suggests, it first looks all too masculine set against his finely chiseled face, but by adding a necklace, a belt, and letting down her coiffed hair, Saint Laurent brings entire outfit to life before our eyes.
       One wonders, at moments, whether Saint Laurent, given his fairly long life-span of 71, ever slept—except for the moments he had passed out with drugs or been beaten in a near-coma. He begins the film by checking into a Paris hotel under the name Mr. Swann, a name taken obviously from Proust’s great series of fictions. When the clerk asks what he plans to do in Paris, Saint-Laurent suggests he has come there simply to “sleep.” But the moment he arrives, he is already on the telephone ready to give a long interview revealing the intricacies of his scandalous life. Later in the film, Bergé, saving his friend from that faux pas, threatens to sue the paper if they dare publish it. 
      At another point in the film, Bergé stomps into de Bascher’s apartment, forcing him to break off his relationship with Saint Laurent. One can only wonder, as does the designer, what he said that so successfully accomplished that breakup. As I wrote at the beginning of this two-part piece, I think it may be far more interesting to see a movie about Bergé than his brand-name protégé.   

Los Angeles, August 15, 2016

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