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Yves Saint Laurent: beyond the legend

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Jalil Lespert • Director


- Following its box-office success in France, Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent is being presented at the Berlinale

Jalil Lespert  • Director

The two French film productions that shine the spotlight on the life of Yves Saint Laurent have aroused a great deal of industry interest. The actor and director Jalil Lespert is presenting the first one, Yves Saint Laurent [+see also:
film review
interview: Jalil Lespert
film profile
, with the leading role played by Pierre Niney, a sure-fire bright hope of French cinema. The movie is being presented in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival after having enjoyed a great deal of box-office success in France. While we wait to see what Bertrand Bonello’s biopic, Saint Laurent, will be like, Lespert presents a character who is very much removed from the frivolity that is usually associated with the world of fashion. He places him in a historic context where the struggle for women’s rights could also occur through clothing, and he bestows an artistic aura on the character. He also pays particular attention to the intense romantic and professional relationship that the late fashion designer had for 50 years with Pierre Bergé, who collaborated in the production of the film.

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Cineuropa: You were not exactly a fashion expert before starting this project. After the considerable research you carried out, what surprised you the most about Yves Saint Laurent?
Jalil Lespert:
The social value of his work. He did not think of fashion as a set of trends. He was very aware of the fact that he was making clothes for flesh-and-blood human beings who have active lives. Just like Coco Chanel, his work was targeted at all women. For example, he would add pockets to clothes because they were practical, despite the fact that they didn’t make them more attractive. Through his clothing he championed the idea that women were not objects and that they were gradually gaining independence and freedom. He didn’t work for the bourgeoisie or the aristocracy. Today I think he would be delighted to see that fashion is more closely associated with H&M or Zara than with the big-name designers. As a personality, his perception of life made him fragile; that is why he felt that need for self-destruction through drugs and sex, which, obvious differences aside, puts him on a par with Jim Morrison or Jimmy Hendrix. He was also a poet in his own way.

A biography of Coco Chanel also came out recently, featuring Audrey Tautou in the lead role. Could it be that cinema in your country is asserting to the rest of the world that French fashion is also part of French culture?
The fascinating and paradoxical thing about fashion is that it is an industry while simultaneously being all about craftsmanship. In order to do it extraordinarily well, like he did or like Coco Chanel did, you had to be an artist. Of course it is part of our culture; it is something that is very French, and for that very reason, it is perfectly natural to have films that focus on fashion. I wanted to tell a purely French story and to be able to do it in some depth. The life of Yves Saint Laurent has allowed me to do that. I wanted to show how a genius who had to struggle with illness and with his own inner demons achieved all of his aims. In order to do that, he needed to find a companion, to open up to the world and not go it alone. And that’s where Pierre Bergé comes in.

In what way did Pierre Bergé collaborate with you as you were creating the film?
He provided me with countless visual archives. But meeting him in person helped me to gain a better understanding of how deep their relationship was. One day we were both watching an interview that Saint Laurent did when he was young, and it moved me when I saw Bergé, who is now over 80, nodding and saying to the screen: “Good answer – way to go.” He spoke in the present tense, as if they were still together and he was sat between the journalist and his partner. He also gave me unrestricted access to his foundation and to the experts and art curators that work there; I worked with them constantly to perfect the more technical aspects.

Did you feel pressured by the fact that another Saint Laurent biography has been in production at almost the same time as your project and is also receiving a fair amount of media attention?
I tried to focus on my own film because I was already under enough pressure to come up with a movie that I could be proud of and be happy with. I don’t know exactly what the focus of Bertrand Bonello’s film is, but of course I will go and see it when it comes out. Although somehow I have the feeling that he is the one who must be feeling under pressure.

(Translated from Spanish)

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