One evening not too long ago I tried desperately to convince a group of tired and over-work/hungover students to come and see a French film with me at Nottingham’s independent cinema (at double the price of a standard ticket at the Savoy, the local cinema.) My attempts were, as you can probably guess, somewhat fruitless. I did however manage to convince one lovely girl, who studied French, to come with me.
The Broadway, on the borders of Nottingham’s trendy Hockley area, is THE place to go to see independent films in Nottingham. With its cool and quirky style, the cinema itself just feels like Nottingham. Designed by legendary Nottingham designer Sir Paul Smith, you walk into the modern entrance and are surrounded by arty students sporting beards and intellectual professor sorts examining a film for a class.
I will say this about the Broadway though, if you are going, bring your own snacks. Number 1, it costs nearly the price of a small car for a bottle of water, and number 2, they don’t have popcorn. At least not the ‘fresh’ popcorn haphazardly scooped into paper bags and full of germs, only the pre-packaged butterkist kind. I realise this is only a small issue, but I really love popcorn so it’s a pretty big deal. Butterkist just will not do.
The film itself left me in two minds. I adored the styling and the use of Laurent’s actual garments. The realism in the film was so apparent. By shooting in actual locations from Laurent’s life, such as his villa in Marrakech, and the recreation of his infamous ‘Ballet Russes’ collection of 1976 in the same hotel gave the film a documentary feel of the fashion world. We were seeing these clothes in the same light they were seen at the time, enabling us to appreciate them all over again. I would like to praise the music as well, composed by Ibrahim Maalouf, a Lebonese musician with no previous film experience; it was really moving and fitting throughout. The film follows Yves’ life from a very young age, to being made head of Dior, to starting his own line, to his self-destruction and redemption. All the while the film entwined his caustic relationship with drug abuse and mental illness, the general culture of the 60s and 70s and his tender relationship with partner Pierre Bergé. This is where the film all goes a bit wrong for me.
My issues with the film arise with the treatment of biopics in general. When dealing with peoples lives that exist in visual depictions, there is a tendency to want to show all of this on screen. But this takes away from one of the very basics of filmmaking – story telling. I brought up with issue with Holly and she generally had the same idea as me summing it up pretty concisely “I think the biopic should aim to be no different to a normal drama and just try to tell a story, not cram in a history textbook, and they are usually crap when people are scared of misrepresenting the subject or leaving important things out or offending the family etc so the vision gets lost in the facts.” There are definitely elements of all of those problems in the film. For starters wanted to show his vast catalogue of work, not because its historically accurate, but because of the beauty in his craft. Secondly, the films story came mainly from Pierre Bergé’s book about Yves, and he also worked with the filmmakers on the film, so there was likely an element to please him. Lastly it was obviously important to show Saint Laurent’s instability and substance abuse problem. But if they had wanted that to be the theme, that should have BEEN THE THEME, don’t try to do too much. I feel like the same thing happened with Coco Avant Chanel, which just ended up being fat and dull, wholly unlike Gabrielle Chanel’s life.
Yves Saint Laurent had a most extraordinary life, one that would seem to translate so beautifully onto screen, the painful drama coupled with his outstanding talent and exquisite creations are a match made in heaven. Unfortunately this film doesn’t get the balance right. Another film about his life is coming out later in the year (which funnily enough is the same thing that happened with Coco Chanel biopics with Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky being released a month or so after the Audrey Tatou starring film.) This new film focuses on just one 10 year period of his life so it should have a much more focussed story. I hope so anyway.