A review of “Saint Laurent,” which focuses on a short period in the life of designer Yves Saint Laurent. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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Gaspard Ulliel, as designer Yves Saint Laurent in the unconventional biopic “Saint Laurent,” always seems to be inhaling; he’s perpetually appraising, taking things in. With cigarette smoke constantly wafting up around him, like vague quotation marks, he moves through the scenes of Bertrand Bonello’s film (mostly taking place during the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s), his eyes peering out behind oversized glasses and a sleek helmet of hair. In meetings, he sketches; in his atelier, he gazes at his creations approvingly, summing up a dress as “short, neat, and precise as a gesture.”

Bonello’s film is an oddity: Though overlong, it focuses on a relatively short period in the designer’s life (Saint Laurent first made his name as a designer in the 1950s at the House of Dior; he died in 2008), and flits back and forth in time in a disorienting fashion — there’s even a sudden, strange flash-forward to a later Saint Laurent, played by an older actor. But it captures the tense flavor of a particularly heady time in Saint Laurent’s life, during which he struggled with addiction and illness and juggled relationships with his longtime partner/manager Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier) and the alluring, hedonistic roué Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel).

And somehow, between all that, he created some legendary fashion: most notably, in this film, his 1976 Russian-inspired collection, made at a time when Saint Laurent was so ill he could barely walk down the runway. Bonello shows us these lavish, jewel-toned garments, each more ornamental and textured than the last, in a split-screen format reminiscent of Saint Laurent’s Mondrian-inspired prints; they’re so beautiful it’s as if one screen can’t contain them. (For the record, most of them are reconstructions by costume designer Anaïs Romand; this film did not have access to the Saint Laurent archives.)

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Saint Laurent,’ with Gaspard Ulliel, Jeremie Renier, Louis Garrel, Lea Seydoux, Amira Casar. Directed by Bertrand Bonello, from a screenplay by Thomas Bidegain and Bonello. 150 minutes. Rated R for graphic nudity/strong sexual situations, substance abuse throughout and some language. Several theaters.

This is the second of two biopics about Saint Laurent, following last year’s “Yves Saint Laurent,” and it’s certainly the more unexpected of the two. Actor Pierre Nimey, in the first film, played Saint Laurent as a muslin-pale, nervous wraith; here Ulliel’s version is just as jittery but more confident; this YSL knows what he sees. In a key moment in “Saint Laurent,” the designer meets with a client who’s unsure about whether her new YSL pantsuit (then an innovation in womenswear) is flattering. Saint Laurent, gazing at her, loosens a few buttons, rearranges her hair, adds a necklace, gives advice: “Hands in your pockets. You can go out unburdened. Relax. Be more lissome.” And, just like that, she is.