A flamboyant but hollow exercise in style and pizzazz, Saint Laurent, a biopic covering a formative decade in the life of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel), is a riot of colors, debauchery and nonsense. Told in deliberately elusive, non-chronological style by director Bertrand Bonello and co-writer Thomas Bidegain, the movie presents Laurent as something far from a saint. He’s a diehard party animal who was equally at home in drug-fueled nightclubs as he was behind the runway, where models displayed his latest creations to an appreciative, fawning audience.
Played by Ulliel (Hannibal Rising) as an opaque, restless creator whose muse was as flitting and evanescent as his attention span, Laurent comes off as a man driven by his craft — in one scene, he turns a drab outfit into an eye-catching ensemble with a few accessories and bits of color, like a scientist working on an experiment. The fractured timeline forces the viewer to play catch up, since the movie never bothers to properly introduce Laurent’s partner and manager, Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier), who handled the business aspects of Laurent’s empire, or even put the designer’s accomplishments into a historical context, the way Coco Before Chanel did so efficiently.
Bonello wants to have it both ways, using split screens, lush colors and hallucinatory episodes to give the film the feel of a feverish dream, while also trying to draw parallels to the ups and downs of Laurent’s career to the tumultuous era of the late 1960s-early 1970s. At a wildly overlong 21/2 hours, the movie becomes an exercise in endurance, the throbbing soundtrack, glittery lights and bouts of hedonistic sex making the viewer long for a quick trip to the nearest monastery for some peace and quiet. Saint Laurent is too technically proficient and stylish to disregard outright — like his protagonist, director Bonello was chasing a daring vision — but the film, which includes an ill-conceived, risible flash-forward to an aged Laurent, is ultimately too chaotic and fizzy for its own good. Saint Laurent makes you glad you shop at Target.
Rating: ☆ ☆
Cast: Gaspard Ulliel, Jeremie Renier, Louis Garrel, Helmut Berger, Aymeline Valade, Brady Corbet, Lea Seydoux.
Director: Bertrand Bonello.
Screenwriters: Thomas Bidegain, Bertrand Bonello.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 151 minutes. In English and French with English subtitles. Vulgar language, graphic nudity, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Plays at 6:30 p.m. March 11 at O Cinema Miami Beach and 3 p.m. March 15 at Regal South Beach.