If the clothes of Yves Saint Laurent were groundbreaking, the designer's mystique was as subtle as the curve of an invisibly molded sleeve. With the help of Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), his partner in life and business, he launched his own house and forever changed the way women dress. In the late '60s and early '70s, he took a lot of pills and dallied with the wrong boys. Until his death in 2008, he had a series of French bulldogs, all named Moujik, that bore witness to the creation of some of the most supple, unassumingly elegant clothes of the 20th century.
But if that thumbnail sketch hits a few of the highs, mids, and lows, it still doesn't tell you much about the soft-spoken, elusive man who put women in triangle-shaped dresses inspired by Mondrian paintings and designed a whole collection around a fairy-tale fantasy of the Ballets Russes. Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent tries to sweep the evanescent butterfly Yves into its net: The movie isn't enough, but it's something. Pierre Niney cuts a slender, cursive figure; his posture is just slightly stooped, as if the weight of genius really does rest heavily on his shoulders. He doesn't seem to be so much impersonating Saint Laurent as capturing a waft of his presence.
Yves Saint Laurent is a classically styled biopic; to that end, Lespert serves up all the expected shots of the designer scrutinizing and delighting in the human form, male and female alike. Niney's performance captures the dual playing-card faces that Saint Laurent showed to the world: He could be extraordinarily kind, but could also cut like a pair of shears.