Jalil Lespert: “Yves Saint Laurent, this is more than a man.”

A man and a woman posing for a picture

In 2008, Yves Saint Laurent died from a brain tumor, leaving the fashion family orphaned by one of its most iconic members. Six years later, two films dedicated to the great fashion designer will be shown on the big screen.

The first biopic directed by Bertrand Bonello received much praise during the Cannes film festival, but the second film directed by Jalil Lespert–called “Yves Saint Laurent”–will make a more discreet debut, premiering in American movie theaters on June 25th. Nevertheless, it’s a casting to which he owes a lot: Pierre Niney, Charlotte Le Bon, and Guillaume Gallienne as the lead.

Member of the Comédie Française since 2010, 25 year old Pierre Niney has already enjoyed a career filled with carefully and intelligently selected roles. Most known for his mini series “Castings,” shown on premium French channel Canal Plus during the nightly news and talk show Le Grand Journal, the actor made a name for himself after starring in Hugo Gélin’s first film, a funny and touching road movie called, “Comme des frères” or in English, “As Brothers.”

One year later, Niney was acting alongside Virginie Efira in the comedy “20 ans d’écart” (“20 Years Apart”). Rather accostumed to the sphere of comedy, Niney found his role in “Yves Saint Laurent” to be one that would stick with him for a long time. The young actor doesn’t play Saint Laurent; he is Saint Laurent. He delivers an impressive performance in which he becomes one with the character, reproducing impressions and gestures of the famous fashion designer. There’s no secret recipe for his talent however: “My only religion is work, I don’t think about anything else,” he confides.

If his extreme resemblance to Yves Saint Laurent in the film is troubling, the young actor explains that “people don’t tell me too often that I resemble him, but one night at a club, someone came towards me, completely plastered, and told me that I looked too much like him,” Niney laughs, “That night I was wearing a turtleneck. . .”

The film follows the young Yves Saint Laurent, who after having grown up in Oran, Algeria, goes to France to work with the Pope of fashion, Christian Dior. The latter sees in his little protégé a talent that is just asking to be expressed. The death of Dior leaves the young Yves Saint Laurent, just 21 years old, propelled to the head of the fashion house. He establishes his brand name with talent, but like all great artists in their lives, not without moments of doubt.

His innovative vision, his love for art (that he shared all his life with his partner Pierre Bergé), and exoticism, as well as his shining spirit all make him one of the most respected fashion designers of his generation. He was the first to have Asian and African models walk down his runway. He dressed his women in tailored pants and dresses inspired by the abstract painter Piet Mondrian.

If Pierre Niney’s performance is a success, it will not outshine that of Guillaume Gallienne, also member of La Comédie Française, who plays Pierre Bergé. As the narrator of the film, he revisits his partner’s life and career with much emotion. Such empathy is present that viewers begin to think the film focuses more on the relationship between the two lovers. On the choice of the two principal actors, Jalil Lespert is very clear: “the actors love to act I wanted them because technically, they’re better than the film actors.”

Even if Charlotte Le Bon only appears during the first half of the film, her presence floats over the entire work as Victoire, Saint Laurent’s muse who is inseparable from the fashion designer’s creative process when creating his work. The ex Miss Weather found a second wind and her performance brings a little glamor and freedom to the film

With this film, Jalil Lespert had a specific focus in mind: “I wanted to show how and why one becomes a creator.” There’s plenty to critique in “Yves Saint Laurent,” however, expecially when we see him using drugs. “It was important yet also cliché to talk about the dark side of Yves Saint Laurent, with drugs. I wanted to bring light to his character.”

To make the film, Lespert says he could count on the support of Pierre Bergé and of the whole “Yves Saint Laurent family.” The team had the chance to work with those who were close to Yves Saint Laurent, especially Dominique Deroche, the head of press at the fashion house. “This is more than one man–it’s a huge family,” says Jalil Lespert. “One day, I met a woman who was a designer for Yves Saint Laurent who had two children: one named Yves, the other named Pierre.”

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