In the movie world, Yves Saint Laurent — the human being, not the brand — is having a moment: Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent, starring the willowy-awkward Pierre Niney, was released last year.
Now we have Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, in which the genius designer is played by the slightly more robust Gaspard Ulliel. Saint Laurent focuses on the years 1967 to 1976, when the designer was at his peak, clubbing his nights away with chic pals like Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux (Léa Seydoux and Aymeline Valade) and, by day, mining Forties movie-star style and the Ballets Russes for fashion inspiration.
But if you don’t know much about Saint Laurent’s life, you may find yourself lost: Bonello attempts a fractured, no-structure structure, and the risk doesn’t pay off — the picture focuses largely on Saint Laurent’s drug addiction and attraction to the wrong sorts of guys (chiefly Louis Garrel’s dangerous boy-toy Jacques de Bascher), and doesn’t come close to capturing his mercurial mystery.
Still, Saint Laurent strives for at least some understanding of this shy, fragile man, and it’s notable for some early sequences set in the designer’s atelier, in which a cadre of women in white coats flutter in near-silence around a regal, willowy model, their hands molding muslin to her curves and hollows as if they were working with clay. It’s rare to see process — the making of anything — dealt with as clearly and poetically as it is in Saint Laurent. It’s too bad the movie feels like a confusing, misshapen muslin.