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Yves Saint Laurent

Fashions fade. Style is forever.

If the clothes of Yves Saint Laurent were groundbreaking, the designer’s mystique was as subtle as the curve of an invisibly molded sleeve. Those who have picked up just a little Saint Laurent lore may know about his beginnings at the House of Dior in the late 1950s, and his subsequent firing, in 1960, as he lay in a French military hospital after suffering a post-conscription nervous breakdown. With the help of Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), his partner in both life and in business, he launched his own house and forever changed the way women dress.

Poster art for Yves Saint LaurentAs the fragile dauphin in horn rims, Pierre Niney cuts a slender, cursive figure; his posture is just slightly stooped, as if the weight of genius really does rest heavily on his shoulders. He doesn’t seem to be so much impersonating Saint Laurent as capturing a waft of his presence. When this Saint Laurent speaks, particularly to a small clutch of lady journalists, his voice is a dry whisper. But when he lashes out at the far more practical Bergé, who’s doing his best to keep the designer grounded and productive, he’s as simultaneously soft and harsh as a serpent’s hiss. Niney’s performance captures the dual playing-card faces that Saint Laurent showed to the world: He could be extraordinarily kind, but could also cut like a pair of shears.

Yves Saint Laurent is a classically styled biopic; to that end, Lespert serves up all the expected shots of the designer scrutinizing and delighting in the human form, male and female alike. He flirts ardently, though with a conspicuous lack of sexual passion, with his favourite house model, a pouty, button-eyed beauty named Victoire (Charlotte Le Bon) – the affection between the two incites so much jealousy in Bergé that he lashes out with his own surprisingly aggressive brand of sexual revenge. Saint Laurent’s two chief muses of the ’60s and ’70s, the leggy blonde Betty Catroux (Marie de Villepin) and the exotic wood sprite Loulou de la Falaise (Laura Smet), slink and flutter, respectively, in the movie’s margins. And when Saint Laurent’s louche bad-boy lover, Jacques de Bascher (Xavier Lafitte), leads the impressionable designer too far down the wrong path, Bergé responds like a cross between a mother hen and a flame-breathing dragon.

If Bergé figures largely, possibly excessively, in this telling, there are some good reasons. For one thing, the real-life Pierre Bergé has authorized the film. He didn’t grant the same honour to the other yet-to-be-released Saint Laurent biopic, Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent. Plus, you can’t tell the story of YSL without attempting to plumb the admittedly more prosaic mystery of his right-hand guy. Even if it’s essentially Saint Laurent’s touch you see on the clothes – and they’re resplendent here, particularly in a re-creation of the Ballets Russes presentation – Bergé’s mark is there too, in every franc and centime he counted so Saint Laurent wouldn’t have to. Yves Saint Laurent gives us some idea of what it cost to be Yves Saint Laurent. But it also makes us feel for the guy who wasn’t ashamed to leave his fingerprints on the money.

– Stephanie Zacharek, The Village Voice

Retour sur un génie de la mode ? Folle histoire d’amour ? Portrait d’époque ? Yves Saint Laurent est tout cela à la fois. Le film de Jalil Lespert débute à Oran, alors que le couturier n’est encore qu’un tout jeune homme, et suit l’ascension du créateur, de ses premiers pas chez Dior à sa propre maison de couture, créée en 1962, avec son associé et amant Pierre Bergé. Il ausculte les hauts et les très hauts de ce visionnaire de la mode, les robes Mondrian en 1965, le premier smoking en 1965, la collection Ballets russes en 1976 – sans rien nier des périodes moins fastes – réussissant à mêler habilement l’intime et le médiatique, les sentiments et la création, la déchéance et la flamboyance, les névroses et la passion, les coulisses et les podiums.

L’entreprise était un peu folle : comment rendre la liberté du visionnaire que fut Saint Laurent sans égratigner le mythe ? Formidablement soutenu par ses interprètes, Pierre Niney (confondant, vraiment inspiré), et Guillaume Gallienne (parfait de tendresse, d’abnégation, d’intelligence affairiste et d’un brin de brutalité), le réalisateur y est parvenu, n’oblitérant ni la face noire de son sujet (crises de démence, infidélité du créateur, plongées dans l’alcool et la drogue dès la fin des années 1960), ni sa douceur, ni cette extraordinaire propension à dépasser les tabous.

Il y a, dans son long-métrage, un côté petite madeleine, tantôt nature et tantôt pimentée au LSD – ces petits buvards qui circulaient dans les soirées des seventies. Un parfum d’enfance. Entre le plaisir presque sensuel qu’on éprouve à revisiter les créations du grand couturier et ces années bénies que furent les décennies 1960 et 1970 s’immisce la folle mélancolie d’un homme dévoré par le travail et rongé par ses démons intérieurs qui regarda filer sa jeunesse sans la vivre vraiment. Un glacis de tristesse qui rend le personnage encore plus touchant.

– Marie-Elisabeth Rouchy, Nouvel Observateur

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