Friday, June 27, 2014

Yves Saint Laurent, The Last Sentence

Yves Saint Laurent
The Last Sentence

I did not have high hopes.

"L'Amour Fou," the yawner of a documentary on Yves Saint Laurent from a few years back, left me with grave doubts about the cinematic viability - and the inherent interest - of a feature biopic. I'm delighted to report, then, that Jalil Lespert's "Yves Saint Laurent" is an exceptionally frank, knowing and unflinching portrait of fidelities and infidelities carnal and affectional, of that which is and is not fluid in human sexuality, and of a lifelong partnership that changes in nature without losing its foundation. Same-sex entanglements - and opposite-sex ones too - have rarely been depicted on film this honestly and matter-of-factly. 

We meet Yves (Pierre Niney) as a nervous, socially awkward young man already possessed of a keen fashion sense at his family home in Oran, Algeria. He lands a plum internship at Dior in Paris and quickly moves up to head of design at the couturier. He keeps seeing a certain man at the fashion shows, dinner parties and dance clubs that fill his days and nights. The man's name is Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), and he will become Yves' partner in business, love and life. First, though, a compulsory tour of duty with the Algerian army triggers a breakdown, and while in the booby hatch Yves has a realization: he will never again work for anyone but himself. Thus - on a wing and a prayer and a huge bluff of a cover story in Paris-Match - did he and Pierre launch the house of YSL.

Those who come to the movie to look at pretty clothes will not be disappointed. But Lespert does not let us off the hook so easily. I will show you creations of great beauty, he says, but you must also witness the events that gave birth to them. Yves and Pierre each suffer cruelties and indignities at the other's hand. Yves conducts a hidden-in-plain-sight affair with Karl Lagerfeld's boy toy, while Pierre takes out his frustrations with an angry fuck of Yves' best friend and top model Victoire (Charlotte Le Bon). Grounded in excellent, memorable performances by Niney and Gallienne, the film shows us how both men compartmentalized their anger and disdain for the sake of the company, the homes, the lives they had built together. To attract his audience, Lespert didn't have to "go there" - but I'm so glad he did.

The juxtaposition of public personae and private lives is also the subject of Jan Troell's "The Last Sentence," about Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen), from 1917 to 1945 the editor-in-chief of Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, one of Sweden's leading newspapers. Segerstedt was an early and relentless crusader against Hitler, whom he called an insult to the civilized world, writing hundreds of editorials and eventually landing in the cross hairs of a government intent on remaining neutral between Hitler and Stalin. Meanwhile, his Norwegian wife Puste (Ulla Skoog) went further and further off the deep end as he conducted a semi-public liaison with Maja (Pernilla August), the Jewish wife of his friend and publisher Axel Forssman (Björn Granath). The black-and-white film is worth seeing for the superb performances and for Troell's mastery of darkness and light. The film begins and ends with an exquisite image of leaves floating in water; in another scene, Torgny - racked by self-loathing but unable to express it - closes all of the light-admitting doors of his home one by one, until the screen goes black.

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