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YSL Film Review

By Alex Zagalsky on Mar 27 2014

To me there's no better place to watch a French movie in London than at the Institut Francais in South Kensington. I am a little biased (I attended the adjacent Lycée Francais and it is here that I had my first ever cinema experience as a child), but a few hours spent at the Institut Lumière, as it is better known, also holds much appeal to the newcomer.

It's beautiful building for a start - marble interior with busts and statues scattered around and there's a great Bistro attached (six red wines by the glass and French crisps!). People watching is an exercise in anthropology too - last night for the screening of biopic Yves Saint Laurent, I lost count of the number of men with foppish hair and moccasins, while the women were perfectly coiffed with scarves expertly wound round shoulders (really this must be an innate French Thing - I certainly wasn't taught it).

Yves Saint Laurent was a troubled genius - he battled with manic depression and a shyness that was often crippling - indeed these moments played so convincingly by Pierre Niney in the lead role, are excruciating to watch. A kind of paralysing terror followed by an aggressive defiance. It's not an uplifting biopic but it is incredibly rich and absorbing. You feel his euphoria during his fashion 'defillés', described by his business partner and long-term lover, Pierre Bergé (played by Guillaume Gallienne) as the only time Yves felt truly happy.

Niney's performance as YSL is flawless right down to his mannerisms and decent into drug-fuelled nervous exhaustion, but it is Gallienne's heartbreak that sticks with you, as he tries to support and shoulder his lover through his various rebellions of the heart. He has the haunting look of a person who loves someone's soul but is in a bloody battle with their personality.

The emotive score which flits from opera to 70's punk rock is as noteworthy as the clothes - as the film moves chronological through the decades, the soundtrack becomes more intense and dizzying.

And what about those clothes? Well here's where the levity lies in this movie - just as it did for Yves Saint Laurent himself. Most of the couture pieces come from Bergé's extensive archive. It's a delight to see the very first Yves Saint Laurent show re-enacted as it would have been (surprisingly deemed 'predictable' by the press at the time) as well as his fabled Mondrian shift dresses of 1965, original Rive Gauche designs and of course Le Smoking jackets.

His circle of friends and muses - Loulou de la Falaise, Betty Catroux, Andy Warhol and the ever-curt Karl Lagerfeld (bitchy even back then!) - compound a sense of nostalgia for a fashion era that toyed with taboo and gave us permission to redefine dress codes as we please. Go see it and wear red lipstick in honour of YSL - even if no one can see you in the dark.