Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jilil Lespert | Yves Saint Laurent

the seminarian and the madman
by Douglas Messerli

Jacques Fieschi. Jalil Lespert, Jérémie Guez and Marie-Pierre Huster (writers, based on Laurence Benaïm’s Yves Saint Laurent), Jilil Lespert (director) Yves Saint Laurent / 2014
Jilil Lespert’s 2014 film on the life of French clothes designer Yves Saint Laurent is, at least according to the standard biographies of the subject, fairly accurate, although it is clear that much of it is from the viewpoint of Saint Laurent’s manager/lover Pierre Bergé. 

Eventually I’d like to see a film made about Bergé himself, who, on his first day in Paris served as a human buffer as the great poet and film-scripter, Jacques Prévert who fell at his feet him from a window as Bergé moved out on a stroll down the Champs-Élysées! 

           At the age of 18 in La Rochelle, I decided to leave my family.
           The day I arrived in Paris, I went for a walk on the Champs-Elysées
           when suddenly I saw a man go through a French window, fall
           through the air, grab at a store sign and crash at my feet. He was
           bleeding profusely. An ambulance arrived and took him to
           Marmottan hospital. The next day, I discovered in the newspapers
           that it had been Jacques Prévert. I have always considered it an
           omen that the same day I got to Paris, a poet fell on my head.

Prévert went into a coma, and was near death, but did survive.

     Soon after, Bergé became the artist Bernard Buffet’s (not, incidentally, one of my favorite artists) lover, and was an important figure in selling that artist’s work. And in 1958, after meeting the young Saint Laurent, he fell in love with the budding seminarian-looking designer from Algeria, establishing not only a romantic relationship, but becoming the guiding force of Saint Laurent’s noted Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture, which the young designer founded after taking over from the equally renowned Christian Dior. Indeed the two first met, without actually knowing it, at Dior’s funeral in 1957, the date in which Lespert’s film begin.
       That relationship, which is at the center of Lespert’s film, was certainly a turbulent one, with Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne)—serving as the saner front-man for the often and increasingly fragile Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney), who despite his first great success at Dior was soon after exiled from the Avenue Montaigne couture heaven with the excuse of the designer’s having been called up for the military (an impossible position for Saint Laurent, particularly had he been called to serve in his native Algeria, fighting to save the very French privileged world in which he grown up). The designer had what was clearly a nervous breakdown, perhaps initiated through drugs and a diagnosis of bi-polar behavior by the military hospital in which he was interred; but again it was Bergé who came to the rescue, demanding the his lover chose between life or death, sanity or madness. Saint Laurent chose work.


     Yet, it is clear, even in Lespert’s Bergé-approved film, that his protection of the young, always-sensitive—yet, admittedly, “not always nice” artiste—led to resentments among Saint Laurent’s long-time friends and employees, including some of his models such as Loulou de la Falaise (who plays herself). Some even described Bergé negatively as "the pimp who's found his all-star hooker."
     And then, as time moved on, and Saint Laurent had numerous successes through his Mondrian shift dress, his Sharienne safari jacket, the “Le Smoking trouser suit, Catherine Deneuve’s wardrobe from Belle de Jour, and his numerous kaftans and other lighter wear, influenced by the fact that he and Pierre had established a second home in Marrakech, Morocco, became the CEO of Saint Laurent’s house.

      But, like so many artists of history, success, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, also meant excess, as the former abstentious Saint Laurent, moved heavily into drinking, cocaine, hashish and other drugs, as well as wilder and wilder sex parties. By 1976, Bergé and Saint Laurent had broken up, although Bergé continued to serve him as the administrator of the company. 
      Saint Laurent had, meanwhile, taken up with Karl Lagerfield’s (Nikolai Kinski) boyfriend, the equally troubled Jacques de Bascher (Xavier Lafitte), which further resulted in the life-long hatred between the two competing designers. Yet Bergé’s love remained, and in 2008, a few days before Saint Laurent’s death of brain cancer (the diagnosis of which Bergé had kept from his former lover—who argued, along with several other friends and the doctor, that Saint Laurent would not have been able to psychologically deal with the truth) the couple were joined in a civil ceremony of a same-sex marriage. And it was Bergé who took over their vast art collections—which sold for millions after Saint Laurent’s death—and who became the head of the Fondation Pierre Bergé—Yves Saint Laurent, which loaned out the real costumes to help make Lespert’s movie.

Los Angeles, August 11, 2016

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