Bertrand Bonello’s “Saint Laurent” is a brilliant film, least of all because of anything it says about Yves Saint Laurent or his work, but because it is a bold and aggressively postmodern statement about the impossibility of representing someone else’s life. It is a wonderfully layered film, constantly signposting its discomfort with biography, reminding us throughout that the film’s subject is an imaginary composite, ultimately broken and hollow, like the film’s absent centre.
More intriguingly, there is a buried and complicated other subject that haunts the film, one that I’ve been up all night piecing together retrospectively. Learning upon getting home that YSL was born in Algeria and in fact served some time in the war, I felt literal chills down my spine. In the film, the specter of Algeria and the dark 70s sits uncomfortably in the margins, literally shunted out of the frame at points, made a cursory footnote. But it insists and percusses from the sidelines, undergirding a story of Western decay that literally eats away at the film’s supposed subject, only re-emerge with a self-conscious violence, as if competing to be at the centre of the film: the finale is an orgiastic, excessive Oriental bonanza, one you feel has cannibalized the film’s supposed subject and spat out its bones that scatter all over the ground in a mess of pills and fractured consciousness.