As he grew up, Yves Saint Laurent’s personal and professional sensibilities were shaped by the art of film. The Seattle Art Museum and Alliance Française de Seattle present two of Saint Laurent’s favorite films, Children of Paradise and Beauty and the Beast, plus Belle de jour, for which he designed Catherine Deneuve’s costumes, one of which is in Yves Saint Laurent: Perfection of Style.
Les Enfants du Paradis/Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945)
Young Yves Saint Laurent and the cinema-goers of the world were swept away by this visually lush, romantic, witty, and ironic epic of intertwined life and art in the 19th-century Paris of Balzac. There are comedies and dramas in the teeming streets of the Boulevard of Crime and on the Funambules Theatre stage. Outside, the soulful mime Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault) saves the beautiful courtesan Garance (Arletty) from being falsely accused of theft. She is the mistress of the sly, murderous criminal Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), but this doesn’t stifle her sudden surge of love for Debureau. Over the years, this threesome’s dance of changing partners and betrayals is joined by a classical actor (Pierre Brasseur), an aristocrat (Louis Salou) and a young actress (Maria Cessarès) as director Carné and screenwriter Jacques Prévert show us that “poetry and cinema are almost the same thing.” And we can throw in “the world is but a larger stage” for good measure. Stunning art direction by Alexandre Trauner, costumes by Mayo. In French with English subtitles, 35mm, 195 min.
La Belle et la Bête/Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
One of the most enchanting films for adults and children opens with poet-writer-director Jean Cocteau’s words: “Let me begin with the true ‘Open Sesame’ to childhood: Once upon a time . . .” In this marvelous live-action version of the classic fairy tale, an impoverished merchant (Marcel André) picks a rose for his daughter, Beauty (Josette Day) in a mysterious castle garden, and is confronted by the leonine Beast (Jean Marais), who accuses him of stealing. The Beast will spare his life if he sends Beauty to live at the castle. To save her father, she agrees, but faints when she first sees her fierce new companion. As her fear blossoms into compassion and affection, Cocteau conjures a wondrous realm of magic mirrors and golden keys, where tears become diamonds and “love can beautify ugliness.” It’s easy to see how this film about physical and emotional transformation could inspire Yves Saint Laurent, who would brighten women’s lives with creations of fabric and form. Art direction by Christian Bérard, costumes by Marcel Escoffier. In French with English subtitles, 35mm, 95 min.
Belle de jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)
With abundant self-knowledge, Luis Buñuel, the cinema’s master Surrealist, said that “in the hands of a free spirit, the cinema expresses the life of the subconscious.” Beneath the chilly, reserved surface of a beautiful Parisian wife’s (Catherine Deneuve) bourgeois life, a torrent of unexplored sexual desire gushes. Like an innocent discovering an obscure pathway to her psyche and her body, she crosses the threshold of a brothel and goes to work. What she learns about herself in the house of women is a treasure of selfhood that she keeps secret, but her involvements with a young hoodlum (Pierre Clémenti) and her husband’s friend (Michel Piccoli) threaten to expose her. The film poses the provocative question: Is Deneuve’s narrative of emancipation all a dream or fantasy? One thing’s for sure: she wears, and steps out of, costumes by Yves Saint Laurent, one of which is in our exhibit Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style. Art direction by Robert Clavel. In French with English subtitles, 35mm, 100 min.
– Greg Olson, Manager of SAM Films