Rebellious French auteur Bertrand Bonello’s Yves Saint Laurent “biopic” is two-plus hours of a man sufferingly beautifully. For those cinephiles who go weak at the knees for tortured artists and decadents, “Saint Laurent” is movie heaven, starring marquee idol Gaspard Ulliel as the titular fashion-maker at his most gloriously debased. (There’s a million dollar bedroom shot you won’t want to miss.)
In his earlier “House of Pleasures,” Bonello confined his vision to the hothouse of a fin-de-siecle bordello; here, he paints his broadest vista yet, swan-diving, with postmodernist zeal, under the skin of an icon. The clothes are gorgeous, and so are the men, as played with twitchy charm by Ulliel, and an almost comically sexy, swarthy, mustachioed Louis Garrel as Jacques de Bascher, one of Saint Laurent’s many despairing lovers.
The film takes place in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when May ’68 was not yet in the cultural rearview mirror. Bonello seasons the film with surrealistic touches, including repeated images of coiled snakes that take on symbolic significance as Laurent hurtles down the road to hell. You know what that is paved with.
Though at times unruly and undisciplined, falling apart at the seams in its final hour that time-jumps to future YSL as played by Helmut Berger, “Saint Laurent” is like an alternate, decadent gay ’70s Scorsese picture, with a flurry of terrific scenes— including a doped-up dance between the fading, bleary-eyed lovers who’ve lost each other to drugs—that simply gut you.
“Saint Laurent” opens May 8 from Sony Pictures Classics.