Cannes 2014: First Look At Saint Laurent

Empire parks its keister for the fashionista

Fashion biopic Saint Laurent is not to be confused with the recent film Yves Saint Laurent, but it's easily done. Both look at the life of the late French fashion designer with an eye on his love life as much as his work, cataloging his passion for men, alcohol and drugs as well as women's couture. This film from Bertrand Bonello is a slightly slicker affair and benefits from a star turn from Gaspard Ulliel (Hannibal), barely recognisable sporting Saint Laurent's trademark blond locks and big glasses.

Focusing on the designer's life in the '60s and '70s, this flits from fitting sessions to nightclubs with a restless air, although never tiring enough to wrap things up before the two and a half hour mark. A strong supporting cast - including Blue Is The Warmest Colour's Léa Seydoux - is mostly confined to looking pretty and delivering the odd one-liner.

Always glamorous but rarely revealing, the narrative drops in on sketches in Saint Laurent's life as if channel-hopping - or at times, tripping (one memorable scene involves an unfortunate pet dog who wolfs down discarded pills). The story may be based on truth but it's hard to admire this self-serving character, which is one of the film's key problems.

Interesting glimpses of his childhood come too late: perhaps a more traditional chronological approach would have helped the audience understand the reasons for Saint Laurent's problems (his spell in a mental hospital is merely touched upon). It's worth noting that French audiences may be more familiar with the iconic designer's background, which may be one of the reasons it was applauded in the press screening here. But those looking for an engaging character portrait - or a deep insight into what drove this innovative trend-setter - may find the film as frustrating as it is decorative.