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Early on in Bertrand Bonello’s new film Saint Laurent, a vibrant portrait of the acclaimed fashion designer, the eponymous character comes out of the closet. Yves Saint Laurent is naked and slightly aroused as he emerges from a closet that his lover, Pierre Bergé, has playfully locked him in. Saint Laurent walks slowly across his bedroom and into Bergé’s arms, tumbling onto their bed.

Bonello and co-writer Thomas Bidegain’s film initially spans 1967 to 1976, a period that shows the most successful professional period of Saint Laurent and Bergé’s relationship. This was also when Saint Laurent’s drug use, depression, and affair with rival Karl Lagerfeld’s boyfriend, Jacques de Bascher (played by Louis Garrel), challenged their personal relationship.

With the emphasis on the couple’s private struggles, Bonello seeks to dilute the notion of a straightforward, linear timeline. The film opens as the designer's shop is beginning to take off, with orders from Catherine Deneuve and Sylvie Vartan flooding in. By the final section of the film, the story ricochets between Saint Laurent’s Seventies heyday to his twilight years, and then back even further to episodes from his youth.Occasionally, split screens are used to place different moments in counterpoint.

“One of the first words we used was contrast,” said Bonello at the film's press conference today. “The film has to be based on contrast rather than a linear quality to build up the tension.” Looking to Bresson for inspiration, Bonello also referenced movies by Scorsese (The Aviator and Casino), as well as Jacques Becker’s Falbalasand Visconti’s Conversation Piece, intentionally avoiding the conventions of most biopics.

“It becomes a fiction based on real facts,” Bonello added, explaining that he hoped to portray decadence in theoriginal etymological sense of something coming to an end.

Yves Saint Laurent Louis Garrel

Bonello's cast was up for his approach, and wasn’t intimidated by the physically intimate aspects of the film. He met with more than 20 actors before choosing Gaspard Ulliel for the lead role.

“There was almost a form of sensuality between the two of us,” Ulliel said of his work with Jérémie Renier as Bergé, explaining the ease and comfort he felt performing alongside his longtime friend.

“An actor discovers his limits every time he has a new film to shoot. I am trying to push past the limits and go further every time,” Ulliel said. Although kissing a man was new for him, Ulliel explained that he was more challenged by how to portray Saint Laurent’s depression and darker side rather than any aspect of his homosexuality.

He lost a lot of weight for the role in order to “turn up on set with a body that was no longer mine. I felt that was important.”

“The idea was not to become Yves Saint Laurent,” Ulliel said. “But to portray him in a fair way.”