Yves Saint Laurent review – humourless, but good-looking fashion biopic

YSL The Movie

Pierre Niney is a dead ringer for the fashion designer, but this is a lifeless account of his career

France has every reason to be smug about its cultural heritage, but the nation has developed a terribly pious way of commemorating its great and good in biopics. This portrait of YSL, the man behind the monogram, is another luxury embalming job, with the great man's flaws and agonies displayed in the same immaculately shined, refrigerated vitrine as his glories. Humourlessly gorgeous, Jalil Lespert's film makes even the Versailles-like intricacies of the haute-couture world seem humdrum.

Nevertheless, Yves Saint Laurent can be tender and insightful when focusing on the relationship between the designer and his lover and business partner Pierre Bergé. In the title role, Pierre Niney, a dead ringer in horn-rims, is persuasively vulnerable as a trembling greyhound of fragile genius. But he's ever so discreetly upstaged by Guillaume Gallienne's Bergé – a terrific, understated performance that delicately evokes the agonies of the sober éminence grise behind the neurotic boy king.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jonathan Romney, for The Observer on Sunday 23rd March 2014 00.05 Europe/London

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