Yves Saint Laurent, the great French fashion designer, was by any definition an early bloomer. He was hired as an assistant at the legendary House of Dior while still in his teens, and at 21 became the head designer after Christian Dior died of a heart attack in 1957.
In "Yves Saint Laurent," Jalil Lespert's biopic about the designer (who died in 2008), we see him, played by Pierre Niney, as a gawky, nervous young man, pale as muslin, with an angular face hiding behind large trademark glasses. He's not quite comfortable with life, but in the workroom, he knows his instincts are perfect. Standing before a model in a pretty but unmemorable black dress, he ponders, rips into a nearby bolt of white fabric and fashions a sash that suddenly transforms the dress into the stuff of dreams.
"Yves Saint Laurent," though skillfully made, perhaps needed a few more moments like this, and a bit less of the predictable melodrama that was YSL's life. As perhaps inevitable for one so successful at such a young age, the designer struggled in middle age: addiction and illness took a toll, turning him into an ever-smoking, jittery wraith, and his longtime relationship with Pierre Bergé (with whom Saint Laurent co-founded his own fashion house, leaving Dior in the early 1960s) became tempestuous.
It would have been nice to see more scenes of the inspiration that drew YSL to create groundbreaking clothing whose influence is still felt today: the women's tuxedo, the Mondrian shift dress, the sumptuous Russian-influenced collections.
Another French-made YSL biopic, called "Saint Laurent," is coming to theaters later this year. Here's hoping it lingers a bit more on those creations.
PLOT Designer Yves Saint Laurent thrives in the fashion industry but struggles with his personal demons.
CAST Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon
BOTTOM LINE Well-designed, but its melodramatic moments follow a predictable pattern.