When you watch a biopic, you come to it with two main objectives. First, you hope to learn a bit about the subject themself, their life and personal drives, successes, and demons. You also want to know more about how they impacted the world and people around them. Bertrand Bonello’s painful Saint Laurent focuses very much on the first, but neglects just about everything else.
To begin with, you have to care about fashion to even approach this movie. Why else would you care? I’ve seen many such biopics on the fashion industry and was tangentially involved in it for many years as well. But even with my more-than-average knowledge I had trouble following the plot and points Bonello wanted to make. He structured the film using multiple time frames, always jumping ahead to an inflection point in Yves’s life and then rewinding to show us how he got there, and then setting the next point and doing it all over again through to his death…sort of.
The point is that we just don’t care about the man. We don’t really see anything positive from his actions, only his debauched and depressing spiral trying to find himself while somewhere offscreen, somehow, he builds a fashion empire. We have no sense what he really contributes to that empire, other than his name, nor what made it so important to world fashion. I can’t even tell if Bonello did it from love or loathing.
Honestly, this is a movie to avoid regardless of your interest, unless it is entirely puerile for either the main actor Gaspard Ulliel, who does a lot with what he was given to work with, or for the gay clubbing world of Paris fashion in the 70s-90s. Ulliel is backed up onscreen by Jérémie Renier (Frankie), Léa Seydoux (The Lobster), and Aymeline Valade (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), not to mention the suitably weird and creepy Louis Garrel (The Dreamers). Well “backed up” is a little of an overstatement. They provide some local color and framework, but very little substance.
In the end, Bonello does bring it to a point/comment: regardless of Laurent’s life, it didn’t affect his art and impact on women’s fashion. In other words, love the art not the man or, perhaps, an artist’s personal life shouldn’t be part of the equation. Either is a legitimate point to argue, but it didn’t require 2.5 hours of descent into disaster (if it is to be fully believed) that was his life.